WSVN — It only took one storm back in 1935, the Labor Day hurricane that hit the Upper Keys still goes down as one of the strongest storms on record. Patrick Fraser takes a look back at the historic hurricane.
They say a picture paints a thousand words. Well, some of the images from the aftermath of the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 leave you speechless.
The Florida Keys in 1935 were gorgeous, beautiful and starting to grow.
Alma Pinder Dalton, Hurricane Survivor: “He had just built a new house.”
Norman Parker, Hurricane Survivor: “We had a two-story home on the beach, in Islamorada.”
Back in ’35 people built their wood frame houses right on the beach. There were roads and cars but no bridges from island to island. You had to use the ferry.
To link the islands, a YouTube video shows the overseas highway under construction. A thousand World War I vets were recruited to come down and do the work.
Then, on Labor Day of 1935, word started to spread there was a storm coming.
Alma Pinder Dalton: “The weather bureau said we wasn’t gonna get it.”
Alma Pinder Dalton is one of the few remaining survivors of the storm. The Weather Bureau may have said the storm wasn’t coming, but she says her daddy disagreed.
Alma Pinder Dalton: “We’re gonna get something, so we shuttered up the house and moved over to Uncle Lester’s to sit the storm out.”
At the same time, the U.S. Government sent down a train to evacuate the veterans working on the bridge, but it would not make it in time.
As the sun set, each family tried to find the safest, closest house.
Norman Parker: “During the afternoon we moved up to a little cottage.”
As it grew dark, the wind picked up and the nightmare began.
Norman Parker: “The water started coming up. I remember water around my feet, and the roof went off.”
Alma Pinder Dalton: “We all got to the back door to go out. We were following my daddy out, and the house went to pieces.”
The wooden houses were destroyed. Mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters were left struggling in a 20-foot wall of water that swept over Matecumbe and Islamorada.
Alma Pinder Dalton: “I was just hanging on to Uncle Fred.”
Norman Parker: “We’re floating. We’re a raft. We’re floating over the trees. I think the elevation of the water was 18 to 20 feet.
At the same time, the wind estimated at 185 miles per hour roared through — a devastating category 5 storm.
Alma Pinder Dalton: “Everybody’s ears were pealed from the wind and the rain. It was terrible.”
Norman Parker: “It was hard to breathe because of the pressure problem.”
As the sun came up, Norman will never forget what he saw.
Norman Parker: “A lot of us didn’t have any clothes ’cause the wind had blown our clothes off.”
And the beautiful Florida Keys were gone.
Norman Parker: “Complete desolation.”
Alma Pinder Dalton: “Everything was flat. It was just flat. There was just nothing.”
The train that came to rescue the workers was torn from the tracks. Sadly, there were bodies.
Alma Pinder Dalton: “Sophie and Aunt Camille were found under the refrigerator.”
As many as 485 people died, 228 civilians and 257 veterans. So many bodies were tied to docks and stacked on land. Too many bodies to bury, so they cremated many of them.
Barbara Edgar: “You’re looking at the dress that Alma Pinder Dalton wore in the ’35 hurricane.”
Barbara Edgar is now trying to preserve the history of the 1935 storm in honor of her father.
Barbara Edgar: “He started researching it years ago, and of course talking with the locals that went through it.”
Irving Eyster hosted many of the ceremonies at the monument to the victims in Islamorada and wanted to be sure the legacy of this storm lived on, and if another one heads towards the Keys, Norman said, remember the 1935 storm and do something simple.
Norman Parker: “Secure what you got and leave.”