Chapter 4: “The 1928 Hurricane in Florida and the Wider Caribbean” – Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South


The 1928 hurricane arrived during a time of change for the Gulf South and the wider Caribbean. Slavery had ended, to be replaced by poorly-paid industrial and agricultural wage labor and supplemented by inequitable state practices and institutionalized racism. The so-called American Century had begun, with the United States flexing its muscles in the West Indies and looking to develop the Floridian peninsula for economic gain. At the heyday of American expansionism and on the eve of the Great Depression, therefore, the 1928 hurricane intersected with ecological terraforming, short-term economic gains, social and racial inequity, and the development of the sugar industry. By tracing the hurricane’s entire path of destruction and its consequences across the Gulf South and Caribbean rather than focusing solely on Florida, this chapter provides a clearer picture of the peculiarities of the region in the 1920s, a greater appreciation of the ecological risks that framed everyday life in the Greater Caribbean Basin, and a better understanding of disasters and their transnational consequences.

Book Description:

Environmental disasters—including hurricanes, floods, oil spills, disease, and disappearing wetlands—trouble the Gulf South, an area of the United States that includes Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The contributors to Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South explore the threat, frequency, and management of this region’s disasters from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Scholars from the fields of history, sociology, and anthropology examine the underlying causes of vulnerability to natural hazards in the coastal states while also suggesting ways to increase resilience.

Greg O’Brien considers the New Orleans Flood of 1849; Andy Horowitz, the Galveston Storm of 1900; and Christopher M. Church, the 1928 hurricane in Florida and the Caribbean. Urmi Engineer Willoughby delves into the turn-of-the-century yellow fever outbreaks in New Orleans and local attempts to eradicate them, while Abraham H. Gibson and Cindy Ermus discuss the human introduction and long-term impact of invasive species on the region’s ecosystem. Roberto E. Barrios looks at political-ecological susceptibility in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward, and Kevin Fox Gotham treats storm-and-flood-defense infrastructures. In his afterword, Ted Steinberg ponders what the future holds when the capitalist state supports an unwinnable battle between land developers and nature.

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