I have written before about the Hurricane of 1928 and the mass grave in its honor located in Martin County, but today I wish to share my thoughts on a book entitled: Killer Cane: the Hurricane of 1928 by Robert Mykle. (http://www.robertmykle.com/index.html)
The book was written in 2003 and won the Florida Historical Society’s Library Foundation award for “Best Popular Book.” Mykle interviewed numerous old timers who had been children at the time of the storm and survived. He weaves a tale of their large poor but honorable families, their struggles, loyalties, dreams, incredible work ethic, and the final disaster. He is able to create characters that resonate. The reader is completely drawn in witnessing the accounts of the dream of Everglade’s riches and then the storm. In the end, Lake Okeechobee’s earthen dike breeches and its waters rise like a black, vengeful evil, choking the splintered homes that have been lifted off their foundations, while suffocating and drowning the terrified and the praying…
Mykel’s book focuses on the the white families of the tragedy; it is important to note that during this Jim Crow era of American History the rights of black farm workers were close to non-existent. They lived in the isolated shanty low-lands of the fields. According to the book, in the storm, three quarters more blacks died than whites. The total for both whites and blacks is estimated now at “at least 2500-3000.”
One of the telling things for me about reading this story is that it documents the early famers planting their crops inside the lake. Yes, “inside the lake.” The richest soil was there. In dry times the lake would retreat and the farmers would play a game of “Russian Roulette,” planting in the richest soil. If they won, the pay off was huge; if they lost, and the waters came forward covering their plants, they lost everything.
Today, Lake Okeechobee is one third smaller than it originally was and this is one reason the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee are destroyed in times of rain when the ACOE directs water that wishes to go south and fill a lake that is “no longer there.” (Conversations with Engineer, Mr. Tom MacVickars, SFWMD, ACOE)
We took nature’s storage area, diked northward of it and then turned it into the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA.) Obviously, economically we benefit from this today, but ecologically and on a safety level, we do not. Living along the coast is an enormous danger; living south of the lake is a death sentence.
The Herbert Hoover Dike was built in 1933, after the Hurricane of 1928. Agriulture south of the lake expanded. People got rich and we “feed the world.” But after Hurricane Katrina, dikes of the US were prioritized, and frighteningly, the Herbert Hoover was listed in the top 10 dikes most likely to fail.
Since that time, the Army Corp of Engineers has been reinforcing many miles of the dike with concrete drilled deep down in the earth and repaired many culverts. Billions of dollars have been spent. Will the dike hold if another hurricane like the one of 1928 visits?
We continue to play “Russian Roulette” and only time will tell…
Original Map/Size of Lake Okeechobee: (http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/143906)
Historical Photos Hurricane 1928: