Sometimes life sets up trials for us that we just have to get through. There are just some things we have no control over. Sometimes these things wreck peoples lives permanently and sometimes, the only way to get past this is to stand up, brush it off and carry on. One such trial happened in Florida half a century ago. It came in the form of hurricane Donna.
Hurricane Donna was a powerful force of nature that hit the state of Florida, Puerto Rico, Cuba and even as far up as Canada. This tropical cyclone moved at 230 km/h, devastated a total of 900 million dollars in property and claimed over 300 lives. It made several landfalls including near Marathon, Florida and Naples at the intensity of 215 km/h. Just to give you an idea, this kind of hurricane speed can knock down and uproot tall coconut trees and completely destroy structures made out of light materials. Everglades City too was not spared. In fact it took one of the heaviest tolls for this catastrophe.
Before Hurricane Donna, Everglades City was a thriving metropolis, despite its small size in comparison to Naples and nearby Miami. It had a hospital, a movie theater, lots of residential houses, and acted as the seat of Collier County. However, Hurricane Donna took away 50% of the infrastructure in the city, including the hospital, the movie theater, the community center, and lots of residential homes. According to old timers, many of the homes in Everglades City were floating on their foundations after the storm. In fact, the entire town was flooded, destroying many buildings in the aftermath. Hundreds of people also died, and the Tamiami Trail was blocked. Locals lost electricity for a while, and Everglades National Park saw the loss of large tracts of mangrove forest, in addition to 35% of its white heron population.
As a result, Everglades City was unable to fully rebuild and recover from this disaster. Many of the residential buildings and commercial buildings like the hospital and movie theater were lost forever, and the county seat was moved to Naples. This one storm ended Everglades City’s geopolitical significance to Collier County, in addition to greatly slowing its urban development. Its urban development slowed even more once Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve were established in the 1970s, making it very hard and more expensive for residential and commercial buildings to be constructed.
Today, the city of Everglades remembers this horrific tragedy by honoring the lives claimed through its museums and historical centers. You may want to take a visit and learn more about this city’s dark past and how they struggled to gather themselves up and move on from this devastating episode of their lives. The losses were extensive: homes and buildings leveled, crops were lost, 300 million dollars of damage, lost in the blink of an eye, and more devastatingly, more than a dozen of lives lost. However, this did not deter the good folk of the area to pick their lives up and start anew. We ourselves can learn from this tragic yet inspiring story. So the next time you take a tour around the Everglades, and the surrounding areas, we hope you appreciate the fact that these beautiful sights you see around were born out of the resilience and the hope that burned within the people who rebuilt the city decades ago.