1926 Great Miami Hurricane
Anniversary of the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane -
It is impossible to compare this storm to a other storm in Miami's history. Various websites and various government agencies quote different figures as to how many people died. Yet, it is totally impossible to account for every person who was washed out to sea or who perished in this massive, memorable storm. We will go with 373 people but remember that happened at a time when few people lived in Miami in the month of September; just the locals, workmen passing through and people docked in the bay and living on their boats in a shanty town that Miami has not seen since. The Bay was littered with little boats and crafts, schooners shipping wood and building supplies, little speakeasies, houseboats... all docked just offshore.
All in all I believe the total number of bodies found was 373 though we may never know for sure as people who survived jumped on board trains sent down to evacuate survivors with no record, no proof of who went where after the storm. No cell phones, no massive attempt at computerized tracking. People who had come to Miami to find their fortune simply jumped on the trains they sent down to evacuate people back home. The trains came down filled with coffins, they went back with survivors rather than ride back empty. Many a person was never accounted for officially.
The 1926 Hurricane was a Cape Verde storm that slammed into Miami as a strong Cat 4 and when I say "slammed in" I mean it slammed in at "Mainstreet Miami" and it proceeded very slowly across the area. A bigger, wetter storm than Miami has ever really seen. A Floyd sort of storm, crawling it's way across the landscape, dumping floodings rains, high storm surge carrying boats blocks inland and piling up againt broken, half built skyscrapers on Biscayne Blvd and beyond.
What is amazing about the 1926 Hurricane is not so much that so many people died but that so many people lived through such a storm and survived. I know people who sat in 3rd story apartment buildings on South Beach a block from Joe's Stone Crabs and watched the water cover the whole Southern Tip of South Beach and somehow their building stood while the water ran like a river through the first floor hallway corridor. They thought the water was from the rain, flooding rain... imagine if they had understood the dynamics of Storm Surge and had known that it was the ocean filling up the 1st floor of their apartment building and waves battering their building..
I know people who survived the storm in a Model T ford in an Orange Grove far to the west of the City. Many a strong Model T ford saved people out in Coral Gables as they fled their homes to the safety of the Model T as the wind blew through French Doors and ceilings collapsed.
I know people who huddled together in a funeral home near the Miami River that was built just high enough up that it saved the lives of those hiding inside from the rising waters of the Miami River being pushed outside it's banks. Those who tried to cross the bridge and go into Miami to check on their stores when the winds subsided at daybreak never returned, mostly swept away with the backside of the storm. A sort of sneaky eye that arrived just at daybreak seeming to make many believed they had lived safely through the long, dark, night of the storm .. only to have it slap back at them faster a half an hour later.
What a storm. Pictures of the storm and it's aftermath are amazing. The recovery and rescue of many documented in pictures and in stories told and corraborated by old timers.
And, still life goes on and no matter how much people write that the storm killed Miami it didn't. The boom ended but life went on and people kept building. UM still opened. There was a Winter Season of 27 though it wasn't as strong as the one of 1925 and really the 1926 Season was a weak one before the storm. Buildings were repaired and fortunes made.. just a little slower and in a town where people were a little wiser about what a Cape Verde Storm is and how Miami lies often in their path.
Florida Power and Light was a hero after the storm, not a much maligned villain as they offered jobs to any lad who was willing to "hop on a truck" to get Miami up and running again. Many families who worked for FPL for generations link that family connection back to the aftermath of the 1926 storm.
And, in the Jewish community of Miami.. some people died and some people lived on the Day of Judgement.. as the storm hit Miami on Yom Kippur... the day when the book of life is closed and finished and it is transcribed who would live and who would die in 1926...
Judgement Day Storm.. what a storm... 1926!