The Hurricane of 1928
On September 16, 1928, eighteen inches of rain fell in 24 hours. As the storm moved inland, winds reaching 150 miles per hour pushed the water from the south end of Lake Okeechobee over the levee. Nearly 3,000 people, mostly non-white migrant workers, died when water several feet deep spread over Belle Glade, Chosen, Pahokee, South Bay, and Bean City. Although coastal towns, including West Palm Beach, were also hit, the loss of life was concentrated around the lake due to the flooding.
A mass burial of over 1,500 bodies took place at Port Mayaca Cemetery, north of the Martin County line on the east side of Lake Okeechobee. Many were burned on funeral pyres. Others were piled on trucks and brought to West Palm Beach, where Woodlawn Cemetery received 69 bodies, 61 of them white, and 674 African Americans were placed in a mass grave at Tamarind Avenue and 25th Street in West Palm Beach. For about ten years, Robert Hazard and his non-profit, Storm of '28 Memorial Park Coalition Inc., fought to gain recognition for the black victims, until a state historical marker was put in place by the city in 2003, the 75th anniversary of the “Storm of ’28.”
Courtesy Richard A. Marconi
A year after the disaster, the Okeechobee Flood Control District was created to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a long-term plan was designed, which today involves several other federal and state agencies as well. Between 1932 and 1938 the Hoover Dike (though it was not dedicated until the 1960s) was constructed around Lake Okeechobee to prevent another flood. Thousands of miles of man-made canals help manage water overflow from Lake Okeechobee. But the Glades remain vulnerable during hurricanes and heavy rainfalls. The Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District was created in the 1940s to manage the huge project being
Courtesy Florida State Archives
designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But the job description of its successor, the South Florida Water Management District, includes managing the water supply, conservation, and fish and wildlife.
If the 1928 Hurricane were not devastating enough, Glades farmers faced, just ahead, the Great Depression that followed the 1929 crash of the Stock Market. In the 1940s farmers once again put down roots in Palm Beach County, including Andrew Duda from Slovakia, who had been farming in Central Florida since 1911. Forty years later A. Duda and Sons – three of them, actually – had a 20,000-acre farm in Belle Glade and 7,000 acres in Hendry County. The family grew celery, radishes, lettuce, sweet corn, carrots, and sugarcane. By 2005 the farm was the only celery producer in Florida, and fills 1.4 million 55-to-60-pound boxes of celery annually. In one square mile of farmland, A. Duda and Sons grows 18.4 million celery plants.