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September 16, 1928 - The Great Okeechobee Hurricane

On this date 85 years ago, 2,500 people died in the second deadliest hurricanes ever to hit the United States.  To this day, it remains as one of the most intense and destructive storms to ever strike the Western Hemisphere. 


The Great Okeechobee Hurricane formed over the Eastern Atlantic on September 10th before strengthening into a Category 5 storm with winds up to 160 mph.as it slammed into Peurto Rico and parts of the Carribbean killing more than a thousand people.

From there it tracked through the bahamas and into Southeast Florida as a strong Category 4 storm before unleashing it's worst destruction on the towns that border the southern and eastern sides of Lake Okeechobee in South Florida.  

Okeechobee 1928 hurricane

Most of the casualties came from a massive storm surge that formed on the 60 mile wide lake.  Many of the deaths were migrant workers and the full power of this storm wasn't realized until weeks later.

According to Wikipedia - The Okeechobee hurricane, or San Felipe Segundo hurricane, was a deadly hurricane that struck the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Florida in September of the 1928 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the second recorded hurricane to reach Category 5 status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale in the Atlantic basin after the 1924 Cuba hurricane; as of 2010, it remained the only recorded hurricane to strike Puerto Rico at Category 5 strength, and one of the ten most intense ever recorded to make landfall in the United States.


The hurricane caused devastation throughout its path. As many as 1,200 people were killed in Guadeloupe. The storm directly struck Puerto Rico at peak strength, killing at least 300 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. In South Florida at least 2,500 were killed when a storm surge from Lake Okeechobee breached the dike surrounding the lake, flooding an area covering hundreds of square miles. In total, the hurricane killed at least 4,078 people and caused around US$100 million ($1.28 billion 2011 USD) in damages over the course of its path.


Here's a documentary of the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane courtesy WXEL in West Palm Beach, FL...


Unfortunately, the massive death toll combined with social economics of the time lead to the burial of many of the deceased into unmarked mass graves.  Only recently have these burial sites been properly memorialized.


My father was a resident of Lake Okeechobee for many years and residents of that area still regard that event as the worst natural disaster to ever strike the state.  

WDRB Meteorologist Jeremy Kappell

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