Thursday, August 29, 2019

Dorian, go away

old photo showing people cleaning up after Okeechobee hurricane in 1928
The National Weather Service has a memorial page to the
1928 Okeechobee hurricane. This photo is from that page.
It depicts rescue workers pulling bodies from the water.
I write with a heavy heart. Hurricane Dorian is a monster storm and it's aiming right for Florida. At least we have the benefit of minute-by-minute forecasts, advance warning, and time to prepare. People in Florida a hundred years ago had none of that. Thousands of lives were lost as a result.

Wikipedia says more than 10,000 people have died in Florida due to what the encyclopedia's entry calls tropical cyclones. There's no footnote referencing a source, so I can't verify the accuracy of the number. There's an interesting sentence that says most of those deaths occurred before hurricane hunter flights started in mid 20th century. It takes only a brief look at a handful of early 20th century Florida hurricanes to understand that statement.

From the book Florida's Hurricane History, 1998 edition, for example, you learn that hundreds died in a Keys hurricane in 1906 (page 90), the Great Miami hurricane of 1926 (page 126), and especially the Okeechobee storm - called the Okeechobee Flood - in 1928, when thousands lost their lives (page 127). For a vivid fictional retelling of that storm and flood, read Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. She includes the hurricane as part of the narrative.

In Okeechobee, floodwaters caused the horrible tragedy. The hurricane caused the lake to rise so fiercely it rushed over the dikes meant to contain it (page 130). The ensuing flood destroyed entire communities. The National Weather Service has a memorial page about the Category 4 storm that provides a lot of detail. It notes that almost three-quarters of the those who died were people of color who worked as agricultural laborers.

Rushing and rising water remain major threats today when a hurricane strikes. I live 25 miles inland from the coast, at a "high" point (high land being a relative term in Florida). Where I live, we fear the winds, storm-spawned tornadoes, and fallen trees more than rising water. People who live on the waterfront have a different set of concerns. But we're all worried. I haven't given up hope that Dorian will veer off to the east and open water. But that wish seems to be fading. Stay safe, all.

No comments:

Post a Comment