Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hurricanes haunt for a long time

1935 photo shows rescue train that was pushed off its track in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane pushed this rescue train off
its tracks. (Photo credit: State Archives of Florida
Hurricane Irma knocked me right off my twice-a-month posting schedule. The storm also knocked out my power for almost six days. That's minor compared to what Irma destroyed in the Florida Keys, as I'm sure you've heard. The only positive news was the low number of deaths.

A similarly devastating storm struck the Keys in 1935, only that time, hundreds of people died. Sophisticated weather warning systems hadn't yet been developed. In Florida's Hurricane History, Jay Barnes writes that a warning described the system as a tropical disturbance that might have winds of hurricane force. That was a day before the storm known as the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane slammed into the Keys with winds higher than 150 mph.

Reports of that storm terrify even today. Barnes writes that a rescue train that carried evacuees - including veterans building the Overseas Highway - was tossed off the tracks by a wall of water sat least 17 feet high.

Barnes,  Florida Weather author Morton Winsberg, and most every account of the storm include the first-person observations of survivors J.E. Duane. He managed a fishing camp on Long Key and was an observer for the Weather Bureau. His report noted that he observed houses being lifted off foundations, moved, and broken apart by wind and water. Caught waist-deep in water, he was swept along until he grabbed onto a coconut tree's palm fronds and hung on "for dear life."  Duane was knocked unconscious, and when he awoke - still in the tree - saw that he was 20 feet above the ground.

You can read more excerpts of Duane's report in a Monthly Weather Review article on NOAA's Hurricane Research Division website.

Eleven members of a family named Russell on Matecumbe Key also survived, Barnes writes. Horribly, more than 50 other members of the extended family perished in the storm. Overall, more than 400 people died including many of the veterans.

I remember blogging about early Florida hurricanes last year after Matthew struck my area. Here's hoping it's the last time for a long, long while that I turn to that subject.