"" Writer's Wanderings: The Great Keys Hurricane

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Great Keys Hurricane

While Irma tore into the Keys with a fury, she in no way came close to the devastation and loss of life incurred in the Great Hurricane of 1935. The hurricane was unnamed. Hurricanes did not receive names until the 1940s. It earned its title as the Great Hurricane due to its Category 5 designation with winds that reached near 200 MPH and a storm surge of 18-20 feet.

At the time the fastest way in and out of the Keys was by rail, ferry or boat. A railway ran from the mainland to Key West. A large group of World War I veterans were encamped in the area working on various government projects. When it was finally determined that the hurricane would hit the area, a train was sent to try to evacuate the workers but unfortunately it arrived at the wrong time and was derailed by the surge. It was reported that 269 of the veterans perished.

All in all over 400 died in the storm that hit in the night on Labor Day weekend. Tourists as well as residents were swept away in the wind and surge as buildings and landscape around them were torn apart. It must have been really frightening.

The railway was gone. The track and much of its supporting facilities were damaged so badly that there was no way Flagler could afford to repair it all.

The town of Tavenier was completely destroyed. Islamorada devastated.

But the Keys are strong. Over the years they came back. Thankfully as years went on hurricane predictions became more accurate and evacuation procedures in place have saved lives.

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