Steve's picture


Okeechobee’28.     No,      it’s not a classic car by Oldsmobile.

Okeechobee’28.     Nope,  it’s not a pricey French Burgundy.

Okeechobee’28.     Sorry,  it’s not the rifle that won the west.

As measured by fatalities, the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 was the second worst natural disaster in the U.S., yet the event is hardly known outside of southern Florida. Don’t feel bad if you never heard of it. I never did either until I visited my sister’s place near Jupiter Inlet a couple years back.

If you have ever looked at a Florida map, Lake Okeechobee is that big empty circle just north of the Everglades and west of Palm Beach. It’s an odd lake as lakes go.  Although Lake “O” covers four times the area of Lake Tahoe, it’s shallow thing, with an average depth of about 3 meters. At its deepest, the lake bed bearly stands above sea level.

Lands adjacent to the Lake are very flat and heavily channeled for drainage.  The area is surprisingly productive agriculturally -- sugar cane being the main crop through most of the 20-th century.

In the evening of Sept., 16, 1928 a hurricane blew in north of Palm Beach. Although the urban area suffered considerable damage, decent warning had been given to the people to shelter, so few died at the coast. Inland told a different tale. Communication and access there were poor. Many residents were migrant workers, some spoke no English. Even if warning was received, scant shelter existed to take.

As the storm passed over the Lake near midnight, a 4-meter storm surge piled up on the south shore, over-topping an old, small levee. There was no escape from the flood, as many as 3000 perished. Many victims were buried in mass graves. Bodies continued to turn up for weeks.

As a result of the storm, the government constructed a higher and stronger levee to keep low the odds of a 1928 repeat. The new Hoover Dike is maybe forty feet tall with a wide, water-filled canal outboard. You can drive nearly all around the Lake now and never see open water – just an uncrossable moat and an unbroken wall of dirt behind. The sight reminded me of the Berlin Wall. Like Berliners of that era, old timers at Lake “O” say there is a whole different world on the other side of the barrier.  Having never seen that world, I think it’s just a barstool story.

Steven N. Ward,  Santa Cruz


DavidAlexander's picture

Government projects are always good. I have seen an Essay Mama review for this. Hope people understand the main clause of this article.

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