The danger behind the Hoover Dike (or Levee) is Lake Okeechobee. And the danger of a catastrophic breach in the inadequate dam surrounding Lake O is imminent. On September 17, 1928, a monstrous hurricane hit Lake O and the surrounding small farming settlements, sending tons of dirty lake water southward and eastward into Palm Beach County after breaching the “weak levees.”
The storm killed thousands of black and white farm laborers and their families.
The best description of what the flood was like may be in the paraphrased account of James Nathaniel Laramore, a black farm laborer. Laramore lost his entire family in the flood. The waters of Lake O crashed through the weak levees, turning over Laramore’s truck, killing his mother-in-law. One of his two children drowned in his arms; the other, in his father-in-law’s arms. Laramore tried to keep his wife afloat, but after several hours his grip weakened and she slipped beneath the flood.
“Sometime during that hell on earth, Laramore passed out. When he awoke, Laramore was floating in a world of gray. The clouds met the water and the horizon was gone. It was neither day nor night.” Laramore wasn’t sure how many miles the flood waters had taken him, but it took him three days to walk back to the “lake communities.”
THE HURRICANE OF SEPT. 17, 1928, made landfall near West Palm Beach, Fla. with winds topping 145 mph. The storm surge caused waters to pour out of the southern edge of Lake O, flooding hundreds of square miles as high as 20 feet above the ground. As many as 2,500 people drowned. Total damage in the area was estimated at $25 million. Known popularly as the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, it is also known as San Felipe Segundo Hurricane, with winds as high as 160 mph upon striking Guadeloupe, reaching a Category 5 storm.
After the storm, President Herbert Hoover personally inspected the damage. The Corps drafted a plan calling for construction of floodway channels, control gates, and major levees along Lake O’s shores. One solution was the building of the Herbert Hoover Dike. Today, the Corps has been addressing leakage from iron piping and erosion to further secure the levees and the construction of a seepage berm at a cost of $67 million for the first stage. Let’s hope the Corps’ plans are soon enough and sufficient to avoid any conceivable storm like the catastrophic flood of 1928.
Sources:Wikipedia, and “Black Pioneers in Broward County: a Legacy Revealed” (Written and published by The Links, Inc.,1976), p. 38.