A quick stop worth your time when driving along the Overseas Highway (Highway 1) is to see the Hurricane Monument in the small island town of Islamorada, at mile marker 81.5.
The monument commemorates the more than 400 people killed in the severe hurricane which swept through the area on September 2, 1935. The number of deceased is an estimate as an exactly count was not possible as many bodies had been washed out to sea. Many of the perished were World War I veterans who had been working on the construction of the Overseas Highway as part of a Great Depression work project.
The Hurricane that hit the island was a Category Five storm and one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded, with winds of over 200 mph. People were killed because of the high winds, flying debris, and a storm surge which reached a peak of more than 20 ft. Most of the local buildings, bridges and railways were destroyed by the storm and have since been rebuilt.
The casualty count was high because people were not adequately forewarned and because the infrastructure for evacuation was lacking. A single train track served the area and the train sent to evacuate people from the region was knocked off the track by a surge wave. There was no help for those in the area except for what they could provide themselves.
The monument is carved from local coral limestone (“keystone”), which is quite pretty and an interesting rock, though porous and I imagine not a hardy building stone. The monument serves as a grave marker for the cremated remains of about 300 people who died in this storm. It was unveiled in 1937.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)