The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane is the subject of this week’s Florida History Podcast.
One of the great tragedies of the Labor Day storm was the death of hundreds of World War I veterans who were building the Overseas Railroad as part of the New Deal’s WPA program. This was just a few years after General Douglas MaCarthur had authorized an attack on the bonus army in Washington DC. Many of those veterans who protested ended up in WPA programs and many were tragically killed in this storm.
The loss of life from this storm was entirely preventable but unfortunately the Weather Bureau in Jacksonville was late issuing warnings for the storm because of the holiday weekend and even after the warning were issued, the train that was to rescue workers on the WPA project left Miami several hours late.
Hardest hit were Craig Key, Long Key, Upper Matecumbe Key and Lower Matecumbe Key. The army veterans that were at camps in the Keys were hustled onto trains late – a clear case of bureaucratic inefficiency from a government that had largely maligned them. Caught on the train in the middle of the storm most perished. All toll about 480 people passed in the storm, almost 300 of which were veterans deployed to the area to work.
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