"NARRATIVE OF MIAMI AIR STATION ACTIVITIES, BEFORE, DURING, AND FOLLOWING THE SEPTEMBER 2, HURRICANE, 1935.
- 1935 HURRICANE HISTORY
- U. S. Coast Guard 1935 Hurricane Report
- By Jerry Wilkinson
- (The following report was obtained from the National Archives of which parts of it is excerpted below. The report is very lengthy as it summarized all of the Miami Air Station's activities for the period. Only one set of quotation marks is used, ellipses indicate omitted material and my remarks are in [ ]'s. J. W.)
[The Miami Air Station was in the Dinner Key area of Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida - JW]
[Sunday] On September first at 10:00 A.M., the weather forecast with the following Hurricane information was received: "Delayed Weather Forecast: Jacksonville, Florida to Florida Straits, moderate N.E. winds over north and central portion, freshening off the coast, and increasing N.E. winds probably reaching gale force over extreme south portion, and possibly of Hurricane force in the Florida Straits, tonight or Monday, with heavy Squalls in the Florida Straits."
The above warning was believed to be of sufficient gravity to warrant immediate action on our part. All available message blocks were immediately made up and a message with the storm information inserted in each with the following addendum: "Please pass this information on to other vessels in your vicinity." Lt. (jg) W. L. Clemmer took off immediately to warn all boats to the southward of Miami, and particular care was taken to warn those not in communication by radio, telegraph, or telephone. Lt. Clemmer returned at 12:20 p.m., stating that he had insufficient message blocks, having warned boats as far to the Southward as Caesar's Creek. Where boats were grouped, only one message block was dropped. Single boats were warned individually. Additional blocks were then prepared and dropped by Lt. Clemmer in an afternoon flight, particular attention being paid to Labor Day picnic parties on the Keys.
After the Hurricane, members of a picnic party on Indian Key, which Lt. Clemmer had warned by dropping a message block in their midst, came to the Air Station to thank us for saving their lives. Upon receipt of our warning, all had immediately departed with the exception of two men who refused to be alarmed by the message. Indian Key was swept completely bare of all vegetation by the storm, and the two men were lost. On Lt. Clemmer's second flight all regulation message blocks having been expended, paraffin coated, air tight containers were used to good advantage, tape tails of about two feet in length were attached to each container to increase visibility and the storm information inclosed. Lt. Clemmer returning from his second flight reported that boats had been warned from No Name Key, where he flew through a very bad squall, as far north as Baker's Haulover, and that over a score of messages had been dropped to boats in the Bay, and to five miles off shore, no small boats having been sighted further off shore. He also stated that all boats were returning to Miami, or were seeking other havens of shelter, and he believed the storm information to be thoroughly disseminated, local radio stations having broadcast the same storm information. Believing that we had done all in our power to spread the warning to those out of communication, attention was turned to securing the station. . . .
Winds, accompanied by heavy rain, increased to Gale force. The hangar Anemometer registered gusts up to 70 knots. Water pushed into the Bay by the winds rose higher and higher until, it reached the top of the ramp. Boats which had been left at the city mooring dock, adjacent to the Air Station were badly battered, and four boats sank at the dock. At 7:00 p.m., second of September, the city power supply failed, and our Kohler system was used to supply power for the station. At 8:00 p.m. telephone communications failed. Weather information received on the third of September indicated that the Hurricane had passed Florida Straits and was heading Northwestward. Winds of Gale force accompanied by heavy rain continued. Received information that the S.S. Dixie was aground off Carysfort Reef with 275 passengers aboard but were unable to take any action, due to adverse weather conditions, the wind being of such intensity, that it was impossible to open the Hanger door and to get the planes out.
[Tuesday] At 5:00 p.m., third of September, the city power supply came on the our Kohler [An electric generator] plant, which had been running continuously for twenty-two (22) hours, was secured. Late in the afternoon it was reported that the bridge at Snake Creek was washed out and it was almost impossible to cross the raging torrent. Many people were reported dead and injured, and it was also reported that the stream ordinarily about 100' wide, had been opened to a width of 1000', and it was impossible to get a boat or line across the stream. The information relevant to the conditions below Snake Creek was immediately forwarded to the Commander of Jacksonville Division and to the Commander of Base 6.
Requests for transportation over the Keys began to pour in, but due to a 50 mile gale, accompanied by extremely heavy rains, we were unable to remove the planes from the Hangar. All Planes in this area were grounded due to weather conditions.
At 9:30 p.m., third of September, Mr. S. D. Macready District sanitary Engineer of the State Board of Health, reported to us that he had just returned from Snake Creek and the meager information received there indicated deplorable conditions on the Keys to the Southward. This information was also forwarded to the Commander, Jacksonville Division, and the Commander Base 6.
While the planes were grounded in the Hangar, complete checks were given each plane to insure their readiness. It was believed that the Gale would moderate during the night, so the planes were prepared for flight at daylight. . . .
[Wednesday] On September fourth, at 3:30 a.m., the gale having abated to approximately 30 miles per hour, the Hangar door was opened, the ramp cleared of all debris, sounded and found to be secure.
At daylight the amphibian C.G. 133 with Lt. Olsen, Pilot, left for the first survey and relief flight over the stricken area. [I believe the amphibian was known as a Douglas Dolphin and the seaplane a General Avaition PJ-2 - JW] Mr. S. D. Macready District Sanitary Engineer of the State Board o£ Health, representing the FERA and the Red Cross, and Mr. Lyons, Universal News man, were observers on this flight. . . .
In the first flight over the Keys the Amphibian C.G. 133 discovered that the storm swept area, a distance of approximately 35 miles, between Tavernier and Grassy Key, was a scene of utter desolation, not more than three houses remaining upright in this area, the rest having been completely demolished. All vegetation had been completely destroyed except for a few battered Mangrove trees. The Veterans' camps were a tragic sight, Camps #1, and #5 were discernible only by a few pieces of lumber hanging in the Mangrove trees. Camp #3 had a few more pieces of lumber and several a up-turned battered buildings to indicate where an active camp had recently existed. The railroad tracks were completely wrecked. North of Lower Matecumber [sic] the tracks had been blown and carried to the westward of the railroad bed. While south of Lower Matecumbe the tracks wore blown on the east side of the railroad bed and below Long Key on the concrete viaduct the tracks had been completely washed away.
The relief train at Islamorada on Upper Matecumbe, which had been sent from Miami to remove the Veterans from the Keys, looked like a battered child's toy. The engine was the only part left on the tracks. The cars being badly broken up and scattered as far an 30 ft. from tracks. While at Islamorada the Railroad Station, Post Office, and Veterans warehouse were completely destroyed. A few scattered goods were all that remained of the contents of the warehouse. On going ashore at Islamorada we discovered that there were approximately 75 survivors on Upper Matecumbe and unnumbered dead. A few of the bodies had been recovered. At this time the majority of the bodies were entangled in the bushes and wreckage. Doctors and relief workers carried over by the Air Station dinghy were engaged in giving first aid to the injured.
At Veterans' Camp #3 on the southern end of Lower Matecumbe, many
bedraggled survivors were seen walking aimlessly about, a few attempting to assemble their scattered belongings.
After this aerial survey the amphibian, C.G. 133 returned to Miami at 9:45 a.m. The S.S. Liese Maerak was seen aground a short distance of Upper Matecumbe and the S.S. Dixie was sighted on French Reef with several vessels standing by, including three Coast Guard vessels.
Reports of the conditions were forwarded to the Commander, Jacksonville Division from time to time during the flight and upon return to Miami. At Miami a conference was immediately held with the FERA officials laying before them a detailed report of conditions to aid them in the direction of the relief board.
In the meantime, Seaplane C.G. 255, covered the mainland and adjacent Keys from Card Sound to Northwest Cape. It had been reported that a party of people had been at Deer Key before the Hurricane, but no signs of life were found in this vicinity, although there was much wreckage. At Buttonwood Key, which was under about a foot of water, a landing was made and a group of men were found on a stranded boat. These men reported that they had sufficient food and water for their immediate needs, but were extremely worried about a party at Cape Sable. On proceeding to Cape Sable found the Cape to have been completely swept bare of all buildings. In the vicinity of Flamingo there were numerous wrecked and grounded boats, and about three miles east of Flamingo a group of survivors had collected on a wrecked house boat [sic]. At Flamingo on a partly submerged house boat, three survivors were discovered in a very precarious situation. A hazardous landing was made among the wreckage and the three survivors removed and transported to Snake Creek, where they were given first aid, and the Red Cross representative was put ashore with them. The Seaplane C.G. 255 then took off and flew to Upper Matecumbe where a landing was made on a mud bottom in about 18" of water. The Pilot and mechanic waded ashore and found desolate conditions; injured men, women, and children endeavoring to carry on among bodies and wreckage. The badly injured were being cared for by volunteer workers and a few doctors and part of the Coast Guard Detail under Chief Boatswain's Mate Karcher. There the relief workers reported that they were encountering great difficulty in removing survivors to the first aid station at Snake Creek. The Pilot then deemed it imperative to over-load the plane with sixteen (16) women, children, and injured men, one of whom died after arrival at Miami. A difficult take off was then made sliding on the bottom, and they were safely transported to Miami, where they were taken care of by hospitals and relief agencies. Due to strong winds still blowing Lt. Clemmer was unable to bring the plane up the ramp and it was necessary to anchor off the beach and to bring the survivors in on the station crash boat. . . .
[Thursday] The Amphibian C.G. 133, Lt. Olsen, departed at 9:27 a.m., on the fifth of September, with Mr. Conrad van Hyning, State FERA Administrator and party to make a survey of the storm damage. By this time the stench from rapidly decomposing bodies was becoming apparent even in flying over the keys, and was very offensive when the plane landed at Lower Matecumbe. After plane landed a 75 foot Coast Guard Patrol Boat was leaving for Snake Creek with fifteen (15) Veterans aboard, the last of the survivors to be removed from the Keys. The only work now left for relief workers was the gruesome task of recovering the bodies from the tangled underbrush and the waters surrounding the Keys. At this tine the bodies were beginning to come to the surface and could be seen among the wreckage, both on the bay and the ocean side of the Keys. When Mr. van Hyning had completed his survey, the 133 returned to Miami. . . .
[Friday] On September sixth at 10:20 a.m., Lt. Clemmer departed in the C.G. 255 with Mr. J. G. Stoddard as a passenger for a more thorough investigation of the Cape Sable region. Mr. Stoddard wishes to ascertain the fate of his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Kossack, who had been vacationing at Mr. Stoddard's home on Middle Cape. Results of this search was negative, as this entire area had been wiped clean. Mr. Stoddard believed further search for his daughter and son-in-law to be futile as they had been left at his home with no means of escape. The cape has been swept so bare that not one piece of wreckage of his home could be found. At Flamingo the plane landed after being hailed by a row boat and Tom Conroy a survivor in need of medical attention was taken aboard the Seaplane, when returned to Miami at 6:00 p.m.
On the morning of sixth September, the Amphibian C.G. 133 was designated to stand by for use of Governor Dave Scholtz, and Colonel George Ijams, personal representative of the President. Lt. Olsen, departed in the C.G. 133 at 1:30 p.m. with the above passengers. A survey flight made of the stricken area. At Lower Matecumbe the party went ashore to make a more detailed survey of the situation. They wished to ascertain, the progress of the relief work and to determine if further relief measures were necessary. Many reports have been received concerning the cremation of the bodies, and Governor Scholtz wished to determine personally the necessity of such a measure. The bodies were at this time beginning to split open and were decomposing so rapidly that cremation was an essential precautionary measures in the prevention of an epidemic. In spite of the continuous work in reclaiming bodies, some could still be seen floating in the water. The flight was completed at 4:35 p.m. . .
[Saturday] On September seventh at 7:30 a.m., the C.G. 133, Lt. Erickson, Pilot, departed with Mr. O. A. Sanquist, WPA construction supervisor, and Mr. J. D. Peterson, his assistant, for Snake Creek. The passengers were put ashore at Snake Creek and the plane proceeded to cooperate with the WPA in searching for bodies in the storm sections. Twelve (12) bodies were located in Florida Bay and their position reported to Mr. Sanquist, who stated that the bodies would be picked up and cremated. At 4:40 p.m. the plane returned to Miami. . . .During relief work the following survivors were brought in by the Coast Guard Planes:
J. W. Candies G. W. Walker
Virgil Candies John Murray
Bobby Pareseley W. Winen
Mr. and Mrs. Edward Williams Mrs. Martha Parsons
and their children Evelyn, Clarence Roberts
Elizabeth and Bobby. R. E. Roberts
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Cale and Tom Conroy
their children, Carl, Cecil and Frank Smith
Marcell Law and Baby (Perry) R. Brandees
John A. Russell and son Bernard Ben Broberg
Two seriously injured E. L. Lewis & son
unidentified men. Jim Norman
Robert Gardner Charles Linn
From the eighth to the tenth of Sepetmber, inclusive, seven administrative flights were made by the pilots of the Air Station in cooperation with Federal and State Officials carrying the following passengers;
Mr. John Apt. Ass't General Counsel, FERA Sheriff D.C.Colman, Monroe County Florida
Mr. Marion Porter, FERA Mr. Green, FERA
Mr. Alandd Hohnstone, FERA Mr. S.L. Leithiser, Veterans' Administration
Mr. R.F. Harris, New York Daily News Colonel George E. Ijams, Vets. Administratio
Mr. J.S. Lects, Red Cross Mr. H.W. Farmer, Veterans' Bureau
Mr. Conrad von Hyning, FERA Mr. H.Z. Macklan, Veterans' Bureau
Mr. J. H. Pollyhasv, Vetereans' Bueau
Mr. John Abt, Ass't General Counsel, FERA
- - - - End - - - -
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