Some of the approximately 100 guests who attended the City of Pahokee’s annual Commemoration Ceremony to honor the estimated 3,000 people who died during the 1928 hurricane. They are standing at the mass grave, in Port Mayaca Memorial Gardens, that contains about 1,600 of the victims. / Photos, video by J.D. Vivian

On Sept. 14, the City of Pahokee, Fla., held its annual Commemoration Ceremony to remember and to honor the estimated 3,000 people who died during the 1928 hurricane.

The event, held at Port Mayaca Memorial Gardens in Canal Point, drew about 100 guests — including the last three survivors of the deadly storm — who braved the heat and humidity. (Though the cemetery is in Canal Point, it is owned and operated by the City of Pahokee.)


Below this marker in Port Mayaca Memorial Gardens lie more than half of the estimated 3,000 victims of the hurricane of 1928.

In the video, a survivor speaks

To see hurricane survivor Lucille Salvatore Herron, who spoke at the Commemoration Ceremony, visit https://youtu.be/zgTehOEP2J8. The two other 1928 hurricane survivors — Lucille’s sister, Iris Salvatore Hodges; and Ethel Williams — are to the right of her in the video. All are in their 90s. The voice at the beginning of  the video is that of Pahokee City Manager Chandler Williamson.

Lucille and Iris live in Pahokee. Ethel, who lived in Pahokee during the storm, now lives in Indiantown.

On Sunday, Sept. 16, the eye of the 1928 hurricane passed over West Palm Beach and, hours later, the northern part of Lake Okeechobee. There, the storm’s counterclockwise Category 4 winds forced billions of gallons of water up against the weak 6- to 8-foot-high levee on the southeast part of the lake. Lake water began flowing over the levee, which consisted mainly of rocks and muck soil.

The severely overburdened levee suddenly failed at about 10 p.m. that night. The rushing floodwaters drowned thousands of victims, many of them migrant farmworkers who had received little — or even no — warning of the impending storm.

Dike construction begins

A few years after the storm, and to avoid a repeat of the heavy loss of life and property, the U.S. government began construction of what became the Herbert Hoover Dike. Much of the 143-mile-long dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee is now undergoing renovation and/or reconstruction, such as that shown below.

The dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee is being reinforced in various ways, including using these metal reinforcements.