Hurricanes That Have Hit Home

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By Delray Beach Historical Society Special to The Pineapple Like a time mark stamp, our hurricane memories seem to frame our decades. They often serve as a reference point for many of our milestones and the changes that have occurred in Delray Beach, economically, socially and environmentally. Ask anyone young or young at heart and they’ll be able to tell how and where they experienced a certain hurricane. If you were here for hurricanes in the past, you know hurricane warnings bring people together, as they shop for emergency supplies or stand along the beachfront watching the angry surf pound against the shore. Friends and strangers band together to eat, drink and reminisce about the “Big Ones” at hurricane parties. After the storm passes, neighbors work together to clean up tree debris, haul soggy belongings to the curb and share quickly defrosting food by barbecuing everything left in the freezer. These meteorological phenomena are more than severe weather events, they humble people into realizing the hardships the early settlers experienced in the days before air conditioning, electronic communication and abundant running water. Over the last century, at least 10 major hurricanes have wreaked havoc on Delray Beach and surrounding areas. The early hurricanes did not have official names, though long-time residents refer to the catastrophic “Big Ones” by the years they blew ashore. Back-to-back hurricanes in the summer of 1926 and the killer twin storms of 1928 deflated the already bursting building boom bubble and initiated a change in Delray Beach’s main industry from agriculture to tourism. September is the height of “hurricane season,” so the Delray Beach Historical Society decided to dig into the Archives and share a look back at some of our “Big Ones.” 1926 – Two hurricanes hit in 1926. The July 30, 1926, front page headline in The Delray News proclaimed, “Hurricane in Delray did much damage.” Extensive damage included the destruction of the town’s boardwalk and the loss of the second floor of the Seaboard Gas and Oil Company filling station. The 18-hour storm leveled many structures, including homes and barns and nearly destroyed the Ebenezer AME Church. The detailed news account describes how electrical poles snapped, leaving the town shrouded in darkness, and shattered plate glass windows in homes and storefronts. One injured resident, R.H. Anderson, suffered a fractured skull and a back fracture when a tree fell on him. Because there was no local hospital, Anderson received medical treatment at Edwards Hospital in Fort Lauderdale. Just as the town recovered from the initial July hurricane battering, an even more devastating blow came on Sept. 18. The Delray Beach News of Sept. 21, 1928, carried the headline: “City re-building after storm havoc.” The account went on to state: “Houses which stood previous hurricanes were crushed like egg shells. Small but well constructed houses were rolled over the ground like so many popcorn balls.” 1928 – Two 1928 hurricanes in our area killed thousands of people; most of the deaths were from drownings after Lake Okeechobee overflowed into the Glades. The Sept. 28 hurricane left a wide path of devastation in Delray Beach, nearby Gulf Stream and Briny Breezes Tourist Park. More than 200 Delray buildings were lost and 350 families left homeless. 1947 – Lifelong Delray Beach residents still recall the damage and destruction of the 1947 hurricane. Hundreds of buildings in Delray Beach, Briny Breezes and Boynton Beach were a total loss after the storm bearing 150 mph winds ripped through the area. The storm washed out much of old A1A; consequently, a new stretch of road called new A1A was constructed. The palatial home of Ward Miller on the ocean in Gulf Stream and the Seascape Restaurant at Briny Breezes were a total loss. 1964 – Hurricane Cleo entered Florida on August 21 between Miami and Fort Lauderdale with 96 mph winds, tangling power lines and leaving most of Delray Beach in the dark. Hurricane Isbell also hit the area on Oct. 15. The storm spawned tornados and destroyed a trailer park in Boynton Beach injuring 22 people. 1992 – The first and worst storm of 1992, Hurricane Andrew left its mark here in Delray Beach despite coming onshore south of Miami. The devastating force of this compact category 5 storm, one of only three to have ever hit the U.S. mainland, caused far less damage here than in the Miami area, but Delray Beach and Boca Raton still saw its share of uprooted trees, power outages and property damage. 1999 – On Oct. 15, Hurricane Irene hit west of Delray Beach with 75 mph winds and heavy rains. The area lost many of its beautiful tree canopies and beaches suffered severe erosion. 2004 – Four wicked hurricanes blew through the area in August and September of 2004. These overlapping storms toppled trees and street signs, making it difficult to locate some familiar intersections. Nearly everyone lost power, except for those with gas-powered generators, and because of destructive wind gusts and damage from falling and uprooted trees, blue roof tarps became a familiar sight. 2005 – The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active in recorded history with a record 28 tropical and subtropical storms. It’s also notable as the year with the most recent hurricane to strike Delray Beach. The 23rd named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Wilma, roared into town on Oct. 24, with 105 mph winds causing extensive damage, widespread power outages, uprooted trees, toppled signs and severe roof damage to many buildings. Delray Beach City Hall was hit hard with 30 air conditioning units torn from the building. The roof at Old School Square had to be replaced. The Tennis Center also suffered $350,000 in damage. Roofs peeled off the Sea Fields Club condominiums and even Palm Beach International Airport was closed for several days. In Delray Beach, we haven’t experienced a major hurricane since Wilma hit in October 2005. According to Steve Weagle, chief meteorologist for WPTV – NewsChannel 5 in West Palm Beach, “We’ve really just been lucky the last decade. The entire U.S. East Coast has been lucky. We go through 20-30-year cycles of busy hurricane seasons. We are likely beginning a period of slower seasons. But it only takes one.”