The racial history of the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane

·2 min read
The racial history of the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane
The racial history of the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.

On September 6, 1928, the Okeechobee hurricane formed near the west coast of Africa. The storm ended up being one of the deadliest storms in Atlantic history. Okeechobee set many records, including being the only Category 5 hurricane to hit Puerto Rico. By the time the storm dissipated, it killed more than 4,112 people and caused $100 million (1928 USD, $1.51 billion in 2018) worth of damage.

Overall, the hurricane impacted areas from West Africa to Eastern Canada, including Cape Verde, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Florida and Georgia.

 Courtesy NOAA
Courtesy NOAA

Courtesy of NOAA

On Sep. 12, Okeechobee's eye moved over Guadeloupe as a Category 4 storm. Apparently, the hurricane hit without warning and killed 1,200 people. It also left around 75 per cent of the island's residents homeless. In the town of Saint-François, only the police station was left standing as it was constructed with reinforced concrete.

Okeechobee destroyed around 85 per cent to 95 per cent of banana crops, 70 per cent to 80 per cent of tree crops, and 40 per cent of the sugar cane crop. After the storm, residents struggled to survive on the island.

1928 Okeechobee Flood
1928 Okeechobee Flood

"Approximate area of the flood. Note: The Palm Beach County label is misplaced. North of Canal Point has been in Martin County since 1925." Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the U.S., Florida was severely hit, with a death toll of more than 2,500 people. Okeechobee also left thousands homeless in the state.

The hurricane got its name from the destruction it caused to Lake Okeechobee. Before the hurricane, the area received heavy rainfall, so when the storm hit, water levels were pushed even further.

The storm surge caused a dike to overflow, resulting in 6m-high floods. The floods swept houses off their foundations and subsequently destroyed them.

Houses were floated off their foundations and dashed to pieces against any obstacles encountered.

Though the hurricane led a path of destruction in Florida, areas in the low-lying Lake Okeechobee ground were the most impacted in terms of the death toll. Approximately 75 per cent of the people who died in that area were Black migrant farm works.

1928 Okeechobee Aftermath 17
1928 Okeechobee Aftermath 17

"Aftermath of the hurricane in southern Florida." Courtesy of Wikipedia

Black workers also led most of the hurricane cleanup. The authorities in the area reserved the limited coffins for white victims and burned the Black victims in funeral pyres.

After the hurricane, a resident of West Palm Beach, Robert Hazard, started the Storm of '28 Memorial Park Coalition Inc. to establish recognition of the Okeechobee's Black victims.

To learn more about the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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