Mention Florida Keys and Hurricanes and the mind drifts to 1935 – the Labor Day storm that most intense to ever hit the United States. That storm killed several hundred World War I veterans working on the overseas highway and washed out Henry Flager’s overseas railroad.
But the 1919 Keys Hurricane which struck this week a hundred years ago is actually the second deadliest in Florida’s history behind the 1928 Okeechobee storm. Most of these deaths came from ships in and around the Keys and southeastern Florida.
Storm warnings were posted the day before the Hurricane hit – warning flags were hoisted from Jupiter Inlet south to Key West and north to Fort Myers. While many previous storms had struck without any warnings, this storm gave advance notice – but not enough for many vessels and coastal residents.
Coming ashore on September 10, 1919 as a Category 4 on the Dry Tortugas after paralleling the Keys and south Florida just to the south (in the Straits of Florida), the slow moving storm wreaked havoc. The Hurricane was the second strongest ever to hit the United States at that time, with a barometric pressure reading of 927 MB.
The storm cut off communication completely south of Miami and spawned several large tornadoes. It also killed well over 300 people in Texas when it struck there as a Category 3.