Flashback – The Okeechobee Hurricane, 1928 –

“Okeechobee Deaths Laid To Big Wave”

The Tampa Tribune. September 19, 1928.

The greatest loss of life in the Okeechobee City district during the hurricane was caused around midnight Sunday by a wall of water from 8 to 12 feet high, which swept in from the lake and destroyed the few standing homes of fishermen and farmers who lived on the shores of the lake.

This was revealed here last night by Col. S.L. Lowry, of the 116th field artillery, upon his return from a survey of the Okeechobee section.

While the loss of life among fishermen and farmers is variously estimated, some placing the figure as high as 100, Colonel Lowry said he made a careful and thorough check of every reported death and that only 27 were definitely known to have been drowned.

That phase of the destructive storm took place on the lakefront only. Okeechobee City itself is three miles from the shore and while the wind caused terrific damage in the town, there was no menace of water, Colonel Lowry declared.

Frame Houses Damaged

Virtually every frame house and dwelling in the town was either demolished or badly damaged, he said, but the brick structures withstood the force of the hurricane without appreciable damage. The velocity of the wind at Okeechobee was estimated at 90 miles an hour, but there was no way to definitely determine its exact speed.

Many of the three-story wooden business houses were completely flattened out before the wind, Colonel Lowry said.

So far as its present needs are concerned, Colonel Lowry said the city was not suffering from lack of food and that the highways were open.

There is a pressing need for funds for rehabilitation, however, many of the town’s citizens having been left entirely destitute by the storm. Hundreds are in need of clothes also.

Artillery at Work

Three units of the artillery are engaged in relief work in the city and the situation probably will be greatly relieved within the next 24 hours, he declared. The civil authorities will probably resume control of the town then.

Moore Haven and Clewiston escaped the storm without great loss, he said, although there was some water in both towns and the wind damage to houses was great. He received no report of deaths in either place, he went on, although there is probability that a few fishermen, not heard from, went down in the lake.

The disaster that descended on the lakefront residents in the Okeechobee City district is almost beyond the imagination, Colonel Lowry declared.

With their homes cracking up and unroofing before the terrific winds, the people living there were totally unprepared for the great wave that swept in suddenly from the lake.

A man named Frazier lost nine members of his family in the wave – his wife, six children, son-in-law and two grandchildren being swept to their deaths. None of the bodies had been recovered when Colonel Lowry left for Tampa yesterday.

Frazier’s house had collapsed and he and his family were fighting their way against the force of the wind to a nearby neighbor’s when the water caught them. In the pitch blackness and uproar of the storm, members of the family were separated instantly. Frazier was washed to the room of a floating cottage and managed to weather out the storm from that position. He did not see any of his family again and no report of any of them being saved was received after the storm passed.

Many others were trapped in their homes by the rush of water and saved themselves by cutting their way to the roof.

Others are believed to be floating around on roof tops on the lake now and search parties were scanning the lake yesterday.

Soldiers Hunt Bodies

Only seven bodies had been recovered yesterday, Colonel Lowry said, and the guardsmen were experiencing the greatest difficulty in their efforts to find the missing. The water is chest deep in the low-lying sawgrass prairies, and the soldiers are conducting the search for victims by falling into skirmish lines and wading across the inundated fields.

In Okeechobee City, the power and water systems were broken early in the storm and until yesterday the town was forced to carry on its rescue work in the dark. The water system was repaired yesterday, however, Colonel Lowry said, and the lights were expected to be in order last night.

“When I left Okeechobee City, the situation was well in hand,” colonel Lowry declared, “and aside from the need for funds, the citizens were not suffering greatly. The relief work was advancing rapidly and the civil authorities probably will be ready to take over the management of the town in a few days.”

A truckload of caskets and 150 rolls of roofing were dispatched to the city yesterday from Tampa in response to a telephone message. Twelve of the caskets were for children.

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