STORM OF THE CENTURY: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935

Willie Drye, Author . National Geographic $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7922-8010-1

On Labor Day in 1935, a hurricane that produced the record low barometric pressure reading of 26.35 inches hit Florida's upper Keys, destroying virtually everything in its path. In his meticulously researched work, Drye gives a vivid, detailed account of the storm's approach and impact when it made landfall. Drye was drawn to the story of the unnamed hurricane not only because of its intensity, but also because it killed nearly 260 World War I veterans who were building a highway as part of a federal construction program. Living in flimsy huts built in low-lying areas, the veterans' only chance to survive the storm was evacuation, a move officials were too slow to order. The first two-thirds of the book, which includes a terrific description of the Keys around the turn of the century (when Key West was Florida's largest city), is especially gripping, punctuated with first-hand survivor accounts of the storm's fury. Responsibility for the deaths of the veterans became a political football, and the blatantly partisan investigation that ensued will have a timeless resonance for followers of American politics. But Drye overreaches when he suggests that full disclosure about the disaster could have caused problems for FDR's reelection bid; the author is on far safer ground as a weather historian than as a political commentator. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 07/01/2002
Release date: 08/01/2002
Paperback - 326 pages - 978-0-7922-4103-4
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