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Florida, especially the Southeastern portion, experienced rapid growth in the early 20th century. The Florida Land Boom of the 1920s brought thousands of new residents, and ushered in a period of unrivaled construction. The prosperity initiated by the arrival of the Plant and Flagler railroads, and perpetuated by endless boosterism, came to a screeching halt in late September 1926.
A catastrophic hurricane made landfall near Miami Beach in the early morning hours of September 18, 1926. Known as the “Great Miami Hurricane,” the storm cut a path of destruction across Southern Florida. With winds in excess of 150 miles per hour, and storm surge heights topping 11 feet above mean high tide, the hurricane left its mark from South Beach, to Moore Haven on Lake Okeechobee, to the Tampa Bay area. The Northern Gulf Coast also experienced the wrath of the Great Miami Hurricane. The storm made a second landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, and dumped over eight inches of rain on an area extending from Pensacola, Florida, to southern Louisiana.
Weather Bureau officials were unprepared for the swift moving hurricane, which exhibited few telltale signs before slamming into South Florida. The citizens of Miami and the surrounding communities were equally surprised by the rapid advance of the storm. The devastation left in the wake of the hurricane prompted one Weather Bureau official to call the storm the, “most destructive in the history of the United States.” Officials estimated the storm destroyed 4,700 homes in South Florida, and left 25,000 people without shelter. The long-term impact of the Great Miami Hurricane became apparent in the months and years to come as the real estate bubble burst, and Florida plunged into an economic depression some three years in advance of the rest of the nation.
The letter below describes hurricanes that hit Southeastern Florida on September 18 and October 21, 1926. Written by “Kaye” from the Floridian Hotel, Miami Beach, to Louise Webber (d. 1993) of Bangor, Maine, the 12 page letter gives a detailed account of Kaye’s activities, both during and in the aftermath of the storms. She begins with remarks on the October 21 storm, before plunging into the events of September 18 and the days that followed. It is known from the letter that Kaye was a resident and employee of The Floridian Hotel. However, her exploits detail conditions beyond the Floridian, such as her walk across the causeway, and in Hollywood, where she searched for “her folks.”
After the third and last hurricane has passed into history and Miami is still on the map. We will now look forward to a prosperous winter.
Was over town yesterday am and at 10 o’clock the warning signals were posted. We were to expect it about the latter part of the afternoon or early in the evening. It began to blow early in the afternoon and continued getting stronger as night came on.
In the hotel the doors were barred and rugs rolled against them. All windows were braced bathroom doors shut tight on account of the ventilators from the air shift, and everything ship shape for such another siege as Sept. 18.
Just about dark people began pouring in, all expecting the worst to happen. I went off duty at 6:30 so went up to my room, no lights by this time.