Last week we began discussing Hurricane Dora, which struck Suwannee County in 1964. We left off with Dora moving westward through Suwannee County and into the panhandle of Florida and also Alabama.
Unfortunately for Suwannee County and North Florida, Dora hit a cold front in Alabama and was pushed back east-northeastward into Georgia on the night of Sept. 11-12. Winds increased and northeast Florida took the brunt of the wind and rain. Citizens were taken unaware as they were woken up in the early hours of Saturday, Sept. 12, by the fierce wind and rain as Dora pummeled Suwannee County. Low-lying areas were inundated with water, and many other areas began to flood as well. The storm returned to the Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 14 near Cape Hatteras and moved northeastward until vanishing off Newfoundland on Sept. 16.
In Suwannee County, and particularly Live Oak, there was major damage. Flooding from Hurricane Dora almost completely cut off Live Oak, with all highways leading into the city shut down. Downtown Live Oak was totally flooded with more than 10 feet of water, and some homes were fully immersed. Residents had to flee to their roofs, where they were rescued by people in boats. Hundreds of homes were damaged and nearly 100 businesses were either destroyed or had major damage. Those businesses (the vast majority of which were downtown) were: Eagle Department Store; Commercial Bank; Hunter Rexall Drugs; McCrory’s; Cheek Drug Company; Alfred Airth Law Offices; First National Bank; Live Oak Jewelry; Seward Fleet’s Department Store; McCall’s; Sharples; Gilmore’s; Gibbs Company; Ogden Jewelry; Live Oak Drug Company; Bottom Dollar; Cohen’s; Dees Barber Shop; Dees Insurance Agency; DuPre’s; Kirby’s; Home Hardware & Furniture Company; Town Finance; Hicks’ Barber Shop; Mack’s Sport Shop; Carl’s Department Store; Liberty National Life; Blue Front Grocery; Gill’s Tire Company; offices of the Suwannee Democrat; Mack’s Fish Market; Kent’s Grocery & Market; Kent’s No. 2; Annie’s Beauty Shop; Carl’s Radio & TV; R & V Furniture Company; Ruby’s Beauty Shop; Elks Lodge; Ottis Brown Motors; Sahara Motel; U.S. Hog Cholera Research Station; and the former Ratliff Motor Company (at the time serving as temporary quarters for County government due to renovations and additions to the Courthouse). A few of the lucky merchants learned about the flooding and rushed to move their goods to higher ground, but most were not so fortunate. Corn, which was then the heart of Suwannee County’s agricultural economy, took a major hit that took time to recover. Homes along 50-65 miles of the Suwannee River were ordered evacuated by Civil Defense authorities because of flooding.
In addition to the financial losses, one person in Live Oak drowned as a result of the flooding. Governor Farris Bryant was among those who surveyed the damage to downtown in a boat, and even President Johnson addressed County officials via satellite to declare Suwannee County a disaster area. Upon returning to Tallahassee, Governor Bryant held a televised news conference in which he called the flooding in Live Oak one of the worst natural disasters in Florida’s history. He praised the citizens for their spirit of cooperation and unity in helping one another, which he called “an inspiration.”
We’ll complete our study of Hurricane Dora next time!
Eric Musgrove can be reached at email@example.com or 386-362-0564.