Hur­ri­canes hard at work on La­bor Day week­ends in Fla.

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Curt An­der­son

FORT LAUD­ERDALE, Fla. — The tra­di­tional end of sum­mer, La­bor Day is also fre­quently a time for hur­ri­canes in the U.S., es­pe­cially Florida. More than two dozen have struck over the hol­i­day week­end since 1851, with Hur­ri­cane Do­rian now loom­ing as the lat­est.

As de­struc­tive as it may be­come, how­ever, Do­rian is not likely to sur­pass what re­mains the most pow­er­ful cy­clone to ever hit the U.S.: a Cat­e­gory 5 storm known as the Great Hur­ri­cane of 1935, which slammed into the Florida Keys, killing an es­ti­mated 400 to 600 peo­ple.

“It’s one of the strong­est storms ever to hit the United States,” said state cli­ma­tol­o­gist David Zier­den.

Many of the vic­tims were World War I vet­er­ans work­ing in a De­pres­sion-era pro­gram to build the high­way con­nect­ing the Florida Keys — a fact that in­fu­ri­ated Ernest Hem­ing­way, who lived in Key West at the time and wrote a scathing ar­ti­cle ti­tled “Who mur­dered the vets?”

“Who sent them down to the Florida Keys and left them there in hur­ri­cane months?” Hem­ing­way de­manded to know in the piece, pub­lished in the magazine New Masses.

State of­fi­cials sent a train from the Florida main­land to evac­u­ate vet­er­ans and res­i­dents alike, but rag­ing seas churned up by the storm swept it off the tracks, said Brad Bertelli, cu­ra­tor of the Florida Keys His­tory and Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter.

To this day, the Great Hur­ri­cane, which hap­pened in an era be­fore storms were given names, holds the record for low­est baro­met­ric pres­sure of any At­lantic Ocean storm to make U.S. land­fall. The lower the pres­sure the more de­struc­tive the storm.

Only a hand­ful of Cat­e­gory 5 hur­ri­canes have struck the U.S. The most re­cent was Hur­ri­cane Michael, which roared onto the Florida Pan­han­dle in Oc­to­ber, killing at least 59 peo­ple and caus­ing more than $25 bil­lion in dam­age. An­drew, in Au­gust 1992, swept across the south­ern tip of Florida — also hit­ting the Ba­hamas and Louisiana — caus­ing 65 deaths and an es­ti­mated $27 bil­lion in dam­age. Camille crashed ashore along the Louisiana-Mis­sis­sippi border in Au­gust 1969, killing more than 250 peo­ple and caus­ing nearly $10 bil­lion in dam­age in today’s dol­lars. Days later, land­slides trig­gered by Camille killed 150 peo­ple in Vir­ginia.

The 1935 La­bor Day storm had a baro­met­ric pres­sure of 892 when it reached land; Michael’s was 919 and An­drew’s, 922, ac­cord­ing to Colorado State Univer­sity re­searchers.

The mid­dle Keys, mainly the re­gion that is now the town of Is­lam­orada, bore the brunt of the 1935 storm’s howl­ing winds and storm surge of up to 20 feet. At the time, be­sides the vets work­ing on the bridge, there were only a few hun­dred res­i­dents, many of whom were found­ing fam­i­lies of the re­gion.

“It was like noth­ing ... any­one had ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore,” said Bertelli, who de­scribed a scene of ter­ri­fied res­i­dents climb­ing trees to es­cape surg­ing ocean wa­ters. “Their clothes were ripped from their skin,” he said.

Bertelli said the Great Hur­ri­cane “ba­si­cally wiped the is­land clean.”

“There were only a hand­ful of struc­tures that re­mained,” he said.


A ho­tel de­stroyed by the La­bor Day hur­ri­cane of 1935. Also known as the Great Hur­ri­cane, it re­mains the most pow­er­ful storm to strike the United States.

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