Monday, September 2, 2013

labor day, 1935

On September 2, 1935, hundreds of World War 1 veterans working for the WPA (Works Progress Administration) on the Overseas Railway waited anxiously for an evacuation train from Miami as a small but vicious hurricane bore down on the Florida Keys. The train never made it and neither did most of the veterans waiting for it.

 The 1935 Labor Day category 5 hurricane roared through the upper and middle Keys with winds estimated between 150 to 200 miles per hour and brought a 20 foot storm surge with it.

The combined violent forces of wind and water washed 10 cars from the evacuation train off the tracks leaving only
the locomotive.

Today is the 78th anniversary of that tragic day.

The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was the strongest tropical cyclone of that Atlantic hurricane season and the most intense hurricane ever to make landfall in the United States.

The storm formed as a weak tropical storm east of the Bahamas and then slowly proceeded westward where it found some warmer water and became a hurricane.

As Labor Day approached, hurricane warnings went up all over the Keys. A train was dispatched from Miami to evacuate the WPA construction workers from the low-rent camps they were living in on Windley Key and Lower Matecumbe Key. But, the train never made it.

The compact and intense hurricane caused extreme damage in the upper Keys, as the storm surge swept over the
low-lying islands.
The hurricane's strong winds destroyed most of the buildings in the Islamorada area and the men in the work camps were killed by flying debris.

The Red Cross report listed the death toll at 408 and the majority of those were the veterans.
The storm destruction throughout the Keys was estimated at $6 million. ($96 million in 2013 dollars).

Just east of U.S.1 at mile marker 82 in Islamorada, near where Islamorada's post office used to be, is a simple monument designed by the Florida Division of the Federal Art Project, constructed using Keys limestone (keystone) by the WPA.

Local residents hold ceremonies at the monument every year on Labor Day and on Memorial Day to honor the veterans and the civilians who died in the hurricane.

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