The 18 Deadliest Natural Disasters in American history

An evacuation and rescue train shows the destructive force of the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane in Florida. Wikimedia

2. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane in Florida

The worst hurricane to ever hit the mainland United States (in terms of wind speed) occurred in 1935, before the custom of naming tropical storms began. It became known by its date of landfall, or rather the date of its first landfall, on September 2, 1935. It brought 185 mile per hour winds ashore with it, as well as a massive storm surge which prevented rescuers from reaching victims of the storm on the off-shore islands. Its second landfall, at Cedar Key, Florida, occurred on September 4, with a surge which exceeded twenty feet. The island town of Islamadora, which was scattered over five separate keys, was completely destroyed by the combination of wind and wave, as was the overseas railway which served the Florida Keys and of which Islamadora was a primary stop. The storm then proceeded across Georgia and the Carolinas before heading back out to sea.

Atlantic City, New Jersey recorded more than 13 inches of rain as the storm passed by on its way back to the Atlantic whence it had been born. It eventually dissipated south of Greenland. The unnamed storm was the first to be observed and tracked by airplane, though the pilot did not fly into the storm. He merely observed it from well outside its reach in order to report its path. Casualties of the storm were estimated then and remain estimates now, with a Congressional investigation listing 485 dead, including more than half of them workers at a veteran’s work camp established as one of the New Deal’s efforts to control the effects of the Great Depression. The Veteran’s Administration compiled a separate and disparate estimate of the number of those killed by the storm. Ernest Hemingway sat out the storm at his Key West home and later wrote an article condemning the US government for placing the veterans in harm’s way during hurricane season without arranging a means of evacuating them.