Devastation in Miami from the 1926 Hurricane


Florida, especially the southeastern portion of the state, experienced rapid growth in the early 20th century. The land boom of the 1920s brought thousands of new residents and ushered in a period of unprecedented construction. The prosperity initiated by the arrival of the Plant and Flagler railroads and prolonged by endless boosterism came to a screeching halt in mid-September 1926. A catastrophic hurricane made landfall near Miami Beach in the early morning hours of September 18, 1926. Known as the Great Miami Hurricane, the storm cut a path of destruction across southern Florida. With winds in excess of 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour and storm surge heights topping 11 feet (3.35 meters) above mean high tide, the hurricane left its mark from South Beach to Moore Haven on Lake Okeechobee, and on to the Tampa Bay area. The northern Gulf coast also experienced the wrath of the storm, which made a second landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, and dumped more than eight inches (20 centimeters) of rain on an area extending from Pensacola, Florida, to southern Louisiana. Weather Bureau officials were unprepared for the swift-moving hurricane, which betrayed few telltale signs of a major storm before slamming into South Florida. The citizens of Miami and the surrounding communities were equally surprised by the rapid advance of the storm. The devastation left in the wake of the hurricane prompted one Weather Bureau official to call the storm the “most destructive in the history of the United States.” Officials estimated the storm destroyed 4,700 homes in South Florida and left 25,000 people without shelter. The Red Cross reported that 372 people lost their lives and more than 6,000 people were injured in the storm. The long-term impact of the Great Miami Hurricane became apparent in the months and years to come as the real estate bubble burst and Florida plunged into an economic depression some three years in advance of the rest of the nation.

Last updated: October 17, 2014