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“Compelling…demands to be read in one sitting…A sobering yet gripping account of the storm’s ferocity, and at the same time personalizes its consequences by making us care about the people it affected. If you are a fan of the Keys, the author’s descriptions of life there in the mid-1930s will add to your understanding of why it is such a unique place to so many people.”—Miami Herald
“The result of a 12-year labor of love for Knowles, who combed through hundreds of pages of testimony from a 1936 congressional hearing on the hurricane before interviewing the only seven survivors he was able to track down.”—Tallahassee Democrat
“Provides a unique perspective on an important episode in the state’s history that had not just local but national consequences. While [Knowles’s] research provides the reader with considerable insight into life and culture in the Florida Keys during the 1930s, it also speaks significantly to how storms such as the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 or, more recently, Hurricane Katrina have the potential to become national issues.”—Tampa Bay History
In the midst of the Great Depression, a furious storm struck the Florida keys with devastating force. With winds estimated at over 225 miles per hour, it was the first documented Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States—certainly a storm for the books!
By sifting through overlooked official records and interviewing survivors and the relatives of victims, Thomas Knowles pieces together this dramatic story, moment by horrifying moment. He explains what daily life was like on the Keys, why the veteran work force was there (and relatively unprotected), the state of weather forecasting at the time, the activities of the media covering the disaster, and the actions of government agencies in the face of severe criticism over their response to the disaster.
The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 remains one of the most intense to strike America’s shores. Category 5 is a sobering reminder that even with modern meteorological tools and emergency management systems, a similar storm could cause even more death and destruction today.
Left: Extensive devastation at Islamorada (State of Florida Photographic Collectoin). Center: Although badly damaged, the Matecumbe Hotel was one a few structures where survivors could find shelter from the rain while waiting for help (State of Florida Photographic Collection). Right: Members of the Parker family, Labor Day Hurricane survivors, arrive safely at Snake Creek on September 4, 1935 (Leone Carter Carey).
Thomas Neil Knowles is the author of Long Key: Flagler’s Island Getaway for the Rich and Famous. Born and raised in Key West, he is a fourth generation Conch whose ancestors moved from the Bahamas to the island in the mid-1800s. He now lives in Tallahassee.