Prayers sent up for Carolinas at Port Mayaca memorial

PORT MAYACA — Three elderly survivors of the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 were among the dozens present Friday morning as a memorial ceremony organized by the City of Pahokee recalled the vast human toll of that storm on its 90th anniversary.

Prayers were lifted up for all those more than 2,500 souls who perished in the great flood that covered much of South Florida up to 20 feet deep after Lake Okeechobee overflowed its banks at the height of that hurricane — as well as for all the millions of people in the path of potential harm from Hurricane Florence. It was striking the Carolinas at the very same moment that the prayers were being offered.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Three survivors of the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 were present Friday as a respectful crowd of dozens remembered the more than 2,500 people who died in that great storm: (from left) Iris Salvatore Hodges, 95; Lucille Salvatore Harris, 92; and Esther Williams, 93.

“We ask your blessings on the Carolinas right now, God,” the Rev. Patricia Wallace of Harvest AME Church in Pahokee prayed passionately during her invocation. “We ask that you protect them and shield them … and God, give strength to the rescuers and save them so that they may return safely to their families.” She went on for several minutes and ended by leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Mayor Keith Babb Jr. spoke briefly, recognizing all the officials and dignitaries who were attending, including three survivors of the 1928 hurricane, who were just 2 to 5 years old when it struck. Vice Mayor Clara Murvin then introduced the featured speaker, Stuart City Commissioner Eula Clarke.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Eula Clarke, a Stuart city commissioner, was guest speaker at the Remembrance Ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 that took place Friday morning, Sept. 14, at Port Mayaca Memorial Gardens.

She touched on many topics in her talk but spoke pointedly and appreciatively about the legacies of those Florida pioneers, farmers, ranchers, migrant field workers and regular citizens who built the modern-day Glades into the winter agricultural capital that the region has become.

Tracy Daniel sang “It is Well With My Soul” with some backup from among the audience, and Allie Biggs, former Pahokee city commissioner and now a community activist, then gave reflections on the anniversary and the day. Dorothy Hazard of West Palm Beach also spoke briefly about the mass grave where over 600 of the Glades victims were buried, at the corner of Tamarind Avenue and 25th Street there. It was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and had a memorial marker erected the next year. She noted that the bodies had to be transported and interred there because burial grounds in the Glades region were inundated by floodwaters. Ms. Hazard invited all those attending to a ceremony of remembrance that was to be held at that gravesite on Saturday, Sept. 15. A closing prayer was said, then city staff offered up a freshly grilled lunch, snack bags and cold beverages to all those assembled, who included a busload of schoolchildren brought in to participate in the living history lesson.

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