Monday, April 1, 2013

The hurricane that hushed the South Florida roar

By Jane Feehan

For more on this storm, see:

Fort Lauderdale, like much of South Florida, reached the zenith of its first building boom in 1925. The city expanded from a square mile to a peak of 43 square miles in 1926 (today it’s about 33). But the luster was starting to fade by late 1925. The boom lost its momentum yet the economy limped along – until September 17, 1926, when a blow from Mother Nature muzzled the roar of the 1920s.

The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, a Cape Verde storm first reported by a ship September 11, approached land late Friday, the 17th.  By 2 a.m., the Category 4 storm (about 140 mph winds) was pummeling Miami, its eye pausing over downtown. Residents took to the streets when winds subsided only to see the storm resume its fury 35 minutes later as the eye passed. One hundred citizens died in those mean streets; they were unaware of the surprises a hurricane could hold. 

The storm marched north, plowing through Hallandale, Hollywood, Dania and Fort Lauderdale, destroying flimsy boom time structures in its path. Hurricane winds pounded South Florida for 12 hours leaving 325-800 dead (15 in Fort Lauderdale) and leveling thousands of homes. Damage in South Florida was estimated to be $100 billion in today’s dollars (according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration), ranking this hurricane among the most costly in US history.

In Fort Lauderdale, the newly built St. Anthony’s Catholic Church and its adjacent school escaped serious damage. Most stucco houses remained unscathed. But nearly 900 other houses and dozens of businesses, including Las Olas Inn, were destroyed. Martial law was declared. The Masonic Temple downtown, surviving the hurricane’s winds, was set up as a temporary hospital and food distribution center.

The Fort Lauderdale Daily News was unable to print a paper until September 20 -  from Lake Worth. Newspapers from around the country wrote about the devastation; one Philadelphia paper proclaimed “Southeastern Florida wiped out.”  South Florida was not wiped out but the boom ended, ushering in early arrival of the Great Depression. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

*Note: The hurricane crossed the state, hit Pensacola in the Florida panhandle,  moved into Mississippi and then Louisiana.
For the 1947 Fort Lauderdale hurricane, see: 
Gillis, Susan. Fort Lauderdale: The Venice of America. Charleston: Arcadia (2004).
Weidling, Philip J., Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press (1966).
National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Florida hurricane history, 1926 hurricane, film researcher, historical researcher

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