BLACK CLOUD: The Great Florida Hurricane of 1928

Eliot Kleinberg, Author . Carroll & Graf $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1146-8

On September 16, 1928, a devastating hurricane struck Florida. Although it was one of the deadliest hurricanes in history, taking the lives of 7,000 people as it swept from the Caribbean to Canada, it has been largely forgotten. In his exhaustive but unwieldy chronicle of the storm, Kleinberg (Historical Traveler's Guide to Florida) details its effect on Florida, where winds of up to 160 mph, inadequate forecasting, lack of communication and insufficient evacuation routes contributed to tremendous loss of life. Many of the victims were poor black laborers who lived in communities near the huge inland Lake Okeechobee, where a flimsy dike broke and the water was pushed "across the land in a moving engine of death." For Florida's blacks, the tragedy was compounded by the fact that while white dead were given decent burial, nearly 700 African-American dead were unceremoniously dumped into a 1.5-acre mass grave in West Palm Beach. Basing his narrative on interviews with survivors and material from archives, newspapers, diaries and official reports, Kleinberg presents vivid pictures of dozens of individual ordeals and recounts the tale of black suffering in the region around Lake Okeechobee, which appears in Zora Neale Hurston's novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Although he dulls the emotional impact with too much detail (the chapter on Hurston, for example, unnecessarily includes a full account of her life), he does capture the drama and tragedy of the unnamed storm that did much more damage than the famous Hurricane Andrew of 1992. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 06/02/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
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Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-7867-1386-8
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