85th anniversary of deadly hurricane

PORT MAYACA, Fla. - On September 16, 1928 a category 4 hurricane hit Palm Beach County but the greatest impact was felt around Lake Okeechobee.

"I remember it was dark and wet and the wind was blowing. They put two-by-fours across the house trying to sturdy it," recalled Iris Salvatore Hodges.

Hodges was one of three survivors of the Storm of '28 recognized at the annual remembrance ceremony at the Port Mayaca cemetery in Martin County.

Salvatore Hodges was 5 at the time. She remembers the family's decision to leave their home.

"They couldn't get the door open. That's the only time I remember anxiety, they couldn't get the door open. It was a big two-story house and it had gone off the blocks but it was still there and they took us in for the night. Took the kids upstairs and put us to bed," said Salvatore Hodges.

When they awoke, the landscape had changed.

 "A few days later the truck came by and my brother said do you know what that is? I said no and he said 'dead bodies'," recalled Lucille Salvatore Herron, Hodges' younger sister.

The death toll was anywhere from 25-hundred to 3-thousand. Many bodies were taken to West Palm Beach. As many as 16-hundred may have been buried at Port Mayaca.

An exact count may never be known. Earlier this year, using ground penetrating radar, it was determined this was a massive grave site.

"Probably they were cremated and burned and after that was over and done with, they covered it back up," said Arthur Invester, the cemetery manager.
 
But storm survivors like Ethel Williams don't want this history covered up.

"We need to talk about it. Let the younger people know where the Lord brought us from," said Williams.

Based on the death toll estimates, only a storm in 1900 that hit Galveston, Texas, killed more people than the storm of '28.  Since the 6-foot dike that existed at the time failed, work began after the storm on the Herbert Hoover Dike, which still encircles Lake Okeechobee today.

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