See if this sounds familiar: A terrible disaster occurs, killing throngs of innocent people; the warning signs were there, but those in authority were asleep at the switch, either because of ego or ineptitude. Congressional committees are formed, but the party in power doesn't want the country to know that they were partly responsible, so they bend the rules and bury the truth. No, we're not talking about 9/11; we aren't referring to Oklahoma City, either. This was a natural disaster, and one of epic proportions. Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 by Willie Drye, a regular contributor to American History and Historic Traveler, is the story of the most powerful hurricane in U.S. history. In 1935 it devastated the Florida Keys, and the inaction of those in power led to the deaths of more than 400 people. Later, they quite successfully covered it up.
Told from the perspectives of the veterans and the locals who weathered the storm, the book documents the creation of a WPA project to create a highway between Key West and Miami to put unemployed WWI veterans to work (as far away from Washington as possible). At the same time, he also details the formation and path of an unnamed killer hurricane that inexorably made its way through the Florida straits, then turned north into the Keys. While locals such as Ernest Hemingway warned that trouble was coming, the men in charge of the project didn't try to evacuate their workers, and a massive loss of life resulted. Alternately a stirring tale of nature's power and an exposÅ½ of government ineptitude, Willie Drye's Storm of the Century is compelling reading. James Neal Webb does copyright research for Vanderbilt University in Nashville.