BLACK CLOUD by Eliot Kleinberg


The Great Florida Hurricane of 1928
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Native son and state historian Kleinberg reports on the truly ill wind that blew over Florida 75 years ago.

The hurricane of September 1928 (they weren’t named in those days) was among the most devastating in the peninsula’s history. Fresh from a swath of destruction through the Caribbean, it claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Florida residents in a matter of hours. Drawing on research that began when he interviewed survivors for a 60th-anniversary story in the Palm Beach Post, features writer Kleinberg reviews this harrowing story with a flood of detail. The natural disaster’s impact, he shows, was worsened by primitive communications and inaccurate forecasts. With winds gusting to 160 m.p.h., the hurricane did not follow the usual pattern and lose strength over land. Rather, the eye of the storm fed on the shallow waters of Lake Okeechobee, then poured those waters, along with much of the Atlantic, over the countryside. Chickens, cows, and humans drowned in the deluge. Children were swept from the arms of their parents. Meteorological instruments, roads, and houses were washed away. It was a calamity of nature: who could be blamed? But, if fault couldn’t be assigned for the storm, it surely could for the human prejudices displayed during the calm that followed. Surviving African-Americans were dragooned under the guns of the militia to clean up and to collect the bloated bodies of the dead, which were found for weeks after the hurricane; blacks and whites were buried in separate mass graves. The Red Cross was criticized (without clear justification) for its efforts, which could not provide sufficient relief in any circumstances. State and Federal governments made feeble stabs at recovery. Chambers of Commerce put on their most cheerful faces. Ultimately, Lake Okeechobee was provided with a proper dike.

A full history of really inclement weather in a nimbus of telling particulars, sure to be popular with fans of disaster tales. (8 pp. photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-7867-1146-9
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2003