The World’s Deadliest Storms
10. Hurricane San Ciriaco 1899
Hurricane San Ciriaco, also known as the 1899 Puerto Rico Hurricane, San Ciriaco Hurricane, or 1899 Hurricane San Ciriaco, was an intense and long-lived Atlantic Cape Verde-type hurricane which crossed Puerto Rico over the two day period August 8 to August 9, 1899, causing many deaths from the flooding.
It kept tropical storm strength or higher for 28 days, which makes it the longest duration Atlantic hurricane on record and the second-longest anywhere in the world.
The tropical storm that later ravaged Puerto Rico developed on August 3 in the tropical Atlantic. It moved in a west-northwest direction, becoming a hurricane on the 5th. As it neared the northern Lesser Antilles, it strengthened into a major hurricane, bringing heavy winds to Dominica, St. Kitts, and Guadeloupe on the 7th. It continued to intensify to its peak of 150 mph before hitting southeast Puerto Rico on the 8th. It crossed the island in an east-southeast to west-northwest direction, causing maximum wind speeds between 110 and 140 mph throughout. After it passed Puerto Rico, it brushed northern Dominican Republic as a Category 3 hurricane, but passed north enough to not cause major damage.
It passed through the Bahamas, retaining its strength as it moved slowly northward. After drifting northeastward, the hurricane turned northwestward, hitting the Outer Banks on August 17. It drifted northeastward over the state, re-emerging into the Atlantic on the 19th. It continued eastward, where it became extra-tropical on the 22nd. The extra-tropical cyclone turned southeastward where, on August 26, it became a tropical storm again. Like most of the rest of its lifetime, it drifted, first to the northwest then to the east. It strengthened as it moved eastward, and on September 3, as it was moving through the Azores, it again became a hurricane. The intensification didn’t last long, and the hurricane became extra-tropical for good on the 4th. It dissipated that day while racing across the northeastern Atlantic. Estimates of people killed range from 3,100 to 3,400, with millions of dollars in crop damage in Puerto Rico. North Carolina fared a little better, but still had considerable tobacco and corn damage from the longevity of the strong winds and rain, making this hurricane the 10th deadliest in history.
9. 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane
The Okeechobee Hurricane or Hurricane San Felipe Segundo was a deadly hurricane that struck the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Florida in September 1928.
It was the first recorded hurricane to reach Category 5 status and as of 2006, it remains the only recorded hurricane to strike Puerto Rico at Category 5 strength. The hurricane caused devastation throughout its path, as many as 1,200 people were killed in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico struck directly by the storm at peak strength, killed at least 300 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The 160 mph (260 km/h) wind measurement from Puerto Rico was taken by a cup anemometer in San Juan, 30 miles (50 km) north of the storm’s center, which measured 160 mph (260 km/h) sustained winds three hours before the peak wind speed was reached; however, the instrument was destroyed soon after and could not be calibrated. The hurricane was also extremely large as it crossed Puerto Rico. Hurricane-force winds were measured in Guayama for 18 hours; since the storm is estimated to have been moving at 13 mph (21 km/h), the diameter of the storm’s hurricane winds was estimated very roughly to be 234 miles (376 km). At least 10 inches (250 mm) of rain was dropped over the entire island. Official reports stated that “several hundred thousand” people were left homeless, and property damages were estimated at $50 million 1928 US dollars.
The eye of the hurricane passed just south of Grand Bahama as a strong Category 4 hurricane, again causing very heavy damage. Unlike Puerto Rico, authorities in the Bahamas were aware of the hurricane’s passage well ahead of time, and preparations minimized the loss of life in the islands.
In south Florida at least 2,500 were killed when storm surge from Lake Okeechobee breached the dike surrounding the lake, flooding an area covering hundreds of square miles. Coastal damage in Florida near the point of landfall was catastrophic. Miami, well south of the point of landfall, escaped with very little damage; Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale suffered only slight damages.
Northward, from Pompano Beach to Jupiter, buildings suffered serious damage from the heavy winds and 10 ft (3 meter) storm surge, which was heaviest in the vicinity of Palm Beach; total coastal damages were estimated as “several million” dollars. Because of the well-issued hurricane warnings, residents were prepared for the storm, and the loss of life in the coastal Palm Beach area was only 26.
Inland, the hurricane wreaked much more widespread destruction along the more heavily populated coast of Lake Okeechobee. Residents had been warned to evacuate the low ground earlier in the day, but the hurricane did not arrive on schedule so people returned to their homes. The worst of the storm crossed the lake with winds measured on the ground at around 140 mph (225 km/h) — the south-blowing wind caused a storm surge to overflow the small dike that had been built at the south end of the lake. The resulting flood covered an area of hundreds of square miles with water in some places over 20 ft (6 m) deep. Houses floated off of their foundations and destroyed hitting any obstacle they encountered. Most survivors and bodies were washed out into the Everglades where many of the bodies were never found. As the rear eye wall passed over the area, the flood reversed itself, breaking the dikes along the northern coast of the lake and causing a similar but smaller flood.
Floodwaters persisted for several weeks, impeding attempts to clean up the devastation. Burial services were quickly overwhelmed, and many of the bodies were placed into mass graves. The Red Cross estimated the number of fatalities as 1,836, which was taken as the official count by the National Weather Service for many years; older sources usually list 3,411 as the total count of fatalities, including the Caribbean. However, in 2003 this was revised as “at least” 2,500, making the Okeechobee hurricane 9th deadliest hurricane. In total, the hurricane killed at least 4,075 people and caused around $100 million 1928 US dollars in damages over the course of its path.
8. Newfoundland Hurricane of 1775
A letter from New Bern, North Carolina recounted, “We had a violent hurricane…which has done a vast deal of damage here, at the Bar, and at Matamuskeet, near 150 lives being lost at the Bar, and 15 in one neighborhood at Matamuskeet.”
The Newfoundland Hurricane of 1775 is also known as the Independence Hurricane. It was a hurricane that hit Newfoundland in September of 1775 and is believed to have killed at least 4,000 people.
A storm struck the eastern coast of Newfoundland on September 9, 1775. It is uncertain if this storm was the remnants of the hurricane that had crossed the Outer Banks over a week earlier; if so, it was probably extra tropical by this time.
Newfoundland’s fisheries “received a very severe stroke from the violence of the wind, which almost swept everything before it,” the colonial governor Richard Duff wrote shortly after it struck. “A considerable number of boats, with their crews, have been totally lost, several vessels wrecked on the shores,” he said. Ocean levels rose to heights “scarcely ever known before” and caused great devastation, Duff reported.
A total of 4,000 sailors, mostly from England and Ireland, were reported to have been drowned, a localized storm surge is reported to have reached heights of between 20 and 30 feet. Losses from the hurricane include many fishing boats and two armed schooners of the Royal Navy, who were on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to enforced Britain’s fishing rights.
The hurricane is Atlantic Canada’s first recorded hurricane and Canada’s most tragic natural disaster (and by far the deadliest hurricane to ever hit Canada), as well as the eighth deadliest hurricane in history.
7. Atlantic hurricane 1766
In 1766 there was a severe hurricane in Jamaica around the islands of the West Indies. Captain John Leaycroft, who was a member of the Leaycraft family of Beaufort North Carolina, was in Jamaica days afterwards and his report was published in the Virginia Gazette on 24th October 1766. His claim says “it came in at 10am continued without abating until 5pm and has done considerable damage”.
The hurricane moving northward through the Carolinas affected a Revolutionary War battle in Virginia; it caused supply ships to sink in the Chesapeake Bay area.
September 4th, 1766: The hurricane hits Galveston.
A mission named San Augustine de Ahumado, located in what is now considered Chambers County, was destroyed. Storm surges of 7 feet flooded the area. A richly-laden treasure fleet of 5 galleons en route from Vera Cruz to Havana was driven ashore and had to wait many weeks for assistance to come. Fortunately, much of the treasure and people aboard were saved.
The powerful hurricane hit Martinique on September 5.
It hit Pointe-a-Pitre Bay, Guadeloupe the next day, and caused 6000 fatalities making it the 7th deadliest hurricane in Atlantic history..
6. Hurricane Flora 1963
Hurricane Flora blasted through the Caribbean in September and October 1963.
The Category 4 system struck the southwest peninsula of Haiti on October 4, causing heavy rains and flooding. Flora hit southeast Cuba near Guantanamo Bay also on the 4th, but a high pressure system to its north and another to its west caused Flora to drift over Cuba. It reached the Caribbean again on the 6th, but it again hit Cuba on the 7th. Flora was pulled to the north-east by a trough, bringing the hurricane into the Atlantic Ocean on the 8th. Flora steadily strengthened to a 115 mph major hurricane on the 10th, but cooler water temperatures weakened Flora until it became extra tropical on the 12th.
The hurricane caused such great damage in Tobago that it changed the economy of the island from cash-crop agriculture towards tourism and fishing. Heavy crop damage was reported in Haiti, with smaller amounts of damage in Dominican Republic.
Flora left 7,193 people dead in Haiti and Cuba, making it the 6th deadliest hurricane in Atlantic history.
In addition, Flora caused a total of $528 million (1963 dollars) in damage.
5. 1930 Dominican Republic Hurricane
The 1930 Dominican Republic Hurricane was a small but intense Category 4 storm during the 1930 Atlantic hurricane season.
On August 25, a tropical storm was observed to the south of the Cape Verde islands. It moved steadily westward and attained hurricane status on August 31 while located about 495 miles east of Guadeloupe. It moved just south of due west, and strengthened into a hurricane later on the 31st. The hurricane continued to slowly strengthen, and reached winds speeds of 95 mph as it crossed the northern Lesser Antilles on September 1.
The hurricane quickly strengthened over the Caribbean Sea, and reached major hurricane status just off the southern coast of Puerto Rico on September 2. It slowed to a west-northwest drift and intensified, peaking as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds on September 3. Soon after, the intense hurricane struck southern Dominican Republic near Santo Domingo. The city experienced very intense wind gusts estimated from 180-200 mph.
While crossing Hispaniola on September 3 and September 4, the hurricane rapidly weakened over the mountainous terrain to a 70 mph tropical storm as it entered the Windward Passage. After spending less than 12 hours over waters with a severely disrupted circulation, the storm hit southeastern Cuba late on the 4th, and paralleled the southern coast of the island. It briefly emerged into the Caribbean Sea on the 5th, but moved back ashore as it continued its west-northwest motion.
On September 6, the small tropical storm reached the Gulf of Mexico. Its motion changed to a northeast drift, where it crossed Florida near Tampa Bay on September 9. It accelerated to the northeast, where it was finally able to strengthen over the warm Gulf Stream waters. On September 12, it became a hurricane again to the east of South Carolina, and reached a secondary peak of 95 mph on the 14th as it turned eastward. It weakened over the Northern Atlantic, and dissipated on September 17.
While crossing the Lesser Antilles, the hurricane had a relatively minor effect; Puerto Rico received heavy rains up to 6 inches, though an unusual occurrence happened when the southern part of the island, the part nearest to the hurricane, felt only 1-2 inches of rain.
The city of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic was nearly destroyed from the hurricane’s strong winds. The damage was estimated at $50 million USD. This tropical cyclone killed as many as 8,000 people when it crossed Hispaniola, making it the fifth deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record.
4. Hurricane Fifi 1974
Hurricane Fifi (or Hurricane Fifi-Orlene) was a catastrophic storm during the 1974 Atlantic hurricane season that made landfall in Belize. Fifi was one of the most costly hurricanes in history, causing $3.7 billion USD in damages. It was also one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes, killing as many as 10,000 people. Fifi was one of the few storms that crossed from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean.
Fifi, only a Category 2 hurricane at its strongest, skirted the north coast of Honduras, causing massive flooding from the inflow of southerly winds. The rains collected in rivers, which caused enormous amounts of physical and economic damage to poor villages, small towns, and commercial banana plantations when it skimmed Honduras. Most of the country’s fishing fleet was destroyed. Although estimates of the number killed range from 3,000 to 10,000, a figure of 8,000 dead is generally accepted. Most deaths may have been caused by freshwater flooding from the rainfall that accompanied the hurricane.
The remnants of Fifi encountered a depression and interacted with it. This triggered the development of another system. After it was named Orlene, it paralleled the coast of Mexico before reaching hurricane intensity on September 23. It made landfall near its secondary peak strength on September 23 southeast of Culiacan and dissipated shortly after that.
Hurricane Fifi is usually considered the fourth deadliest hurricane in history, though uncertainty about the number of deaths caused by Fifi and the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 could place it as the third deadliest ever.
Fifi caused a total of $900 million 1974 USD in damage
3. Galveston Hurricane of 1900
The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 made landfall on the city of Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900. It had estimated winds of 135 miles per hour (215 km/h) at landfall, making it a Category 4 storm. The hurricane caused great loss of life with the death toll estimated to be between 6,000 and 12,000 people. The number most cited in official reports is 8,000, giving the storm the third-highest number of casualties of any Atlantic hurricane.
Common names for the storm include the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the Great Galveston Hurricane, and in older documentation, the Galveston Flood.
At the time of the 1900 storm, the highest point in the city of Galveston was only 8.7 feet (2.7 m) above sea level. The hurricane had brought with it a storm surge of over 15 feet (4.6 m), which washed over the entire island. The surge knocked buildings off their foundations, and the ocean pounded them to pieces.
Over 3,600 homes were destroyed, and a wall of debris faced the ocean. The few buildings which survived, mostly solid built mansions and houses along the Strand, are today maintained as tourist attractions.
2. Hurricane Mitch 1998
Hurricane Mitch was one of the deadliest and most powerful hurricanes ever observed, with maximum sustained winds of 180 mph (290 km/h). The storm was the thirteenth tropical storm, ninth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season. At the time, Mitch was the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever observed in the month of October.
Mitch formed in the western Caribbean Sea on October 22, and after drifting through extremely favorable conditions, it rapidly strengthened to peak at Category 5 status.
After drifting southwestward and weakening, the hurricane hit Honduras as a minimal hurricane. It drifted through Central America, reformed in the Bay of Campeche, and ultimately struck Florida as a strong tropical storm.
Due to its slow motion from October 29 to November 3, Hurricane Mitch dropped historic amounts of rainfall in Honduras and Nicaragua, with unofficial reports of up to 75 inches (1900 mm). Deaths due to catastrophic flooding made it the second deadliest hurricane in history; nearly 11,000 people were killed with over 8,000 left missing by the end of 1998.
The flooding caused extreme damage, estimated at over $5 billion (1998 USD).
1. Great Hurricane of 1780
The Great Hurricane of 1780 is considered the deadliest Atlantic tropical cyclone of all time. About 22,000 people died when the storm pounded Barbados, Martinique, and Saint Eustatius in the Lesser Antilles between October 10 and October 16. Thousands of deaths also occurred offshore.
The death toll from the 1780 storm alone exceeds that for any other entire decade of Atlantic hurricanes. The hurricane struck the Caribbean in the midst of the American Revolution and took a heavy toll on the British and French fleets. British Admiral George Rodney arrived from New York after the storm, finding eight of twelve warships left in Barbados totally lost and most of their crews drowned. The storm also scattered and damaged most of the fleet under his command.
The storm killed nine thousand on Martinique. While in the Lesser Antilles, it killed several thousand sailors of the Spanish, Dutch, British, and French fleets. The storm also took many lives on other islands, including Saint Lucia.
Four to five thousand lives were lost on Saint Eustatius. The storm then passed over the southwestern corner of Puerto Rico heading northwestward. It probably ranked as the most devastating in the history of the island at the time.
The hurricane passed east and north of Hispaniola around 16 October and apparently approached Florida on 17 October. It continued to produce strong northerly gales off Charleston, South Carolina as it passed to the east of the coast.
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