A monstrous hurricane is pounding the East Coast of the United States even as I type. As those of us who live inland hunker down for the worst (high winds and possible power outages), I’ve been thinking about hurricanes of the past.
The deadliest was the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. This Category Four Hurricane moved through Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico before slamming ashore in Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900 killing 6,000 people.
The most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the United States was the (September 2) Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. It began as a weak tropical storm east of the Bahamas on August 29. On September 1 it became a hurricane. Although this category five hurricane was small, it tore through the Florida Keys with 180 mph winds.
One survivor, Bernard Russell, was holding his sister's hand as the waves crashed over them. He lost his grip and the wind and water lashed his body for what seemed like an eternity to him. “You went wherever the waves pushed you and wherever the winds pushed you," he said. "It was so dark, you couldn't see what was going on and maybe that was good."
Russell's mother and three sisters perished, but that was just the beginning. There were 61 in the Russell family and 50 of them died that night.
In a tragic attempt to evacuate Works Progress Administration (WPA) construction workers (consisting almost entirely of Bonus Army veterans and their families), a train was dispatched from Miami. The effort was too late. The train was almost entirely swept away before reaching the camps late on September 2. Only the engine survived the winds and wall of water that swept through the area.
The official death toll was 423 - 164 civilians and 259 veterans. After the 1935 storm, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “We located 69 bodies where no one had been able to get in. Indian Key was absolutely swept clean, not a blade of grass. We made five trips with provisions for survivors to different places but nothing but dead men to eat the grub."
There have been only two other category five hurricanes in the 20th Century. Those were Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
You can read more about The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day_Hurricane_of_1935