Atmosphere And Weather

Deadliest Hurricanes in the United States

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Today, those of us that live in hurricane-prone areas hear of oncoming storms weeks before they make landfall.  People have time to prepare for the storm by gathering essential items or evacuating the area.  Those that need help before, during, or after the storm will find it though organized public services like local police, firemen, hospital workers, military, and government organizations like FEMA.  In the not so distant past, however, hurricanes seemed, for most people, to literally come out of no where to destroy everything and sometimes everyone around them.  It is for this reason that 9 out of the 10 deadliest hurricanes of the United States occurred before 1958.    The following are the deadliest hurricanes in United States history according to the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

10. Audrey (TX, LA)

Year: 1957

Category: 4, possibly 5

Deaths: 390

Hurricane Audrey was first located in the Gulf of Mexico on June 24, 1957.  It made landfall on the Texas/Louisiana border on the 27th.  There isn’t any reliable wind or pressure measurements for Hurricane Audrey, but the wind gauge located at the KPLC weather station in Lake Charles, Louisiana broke at 180 mph.  8 to 12 foot storm surges went as far as 25 miles inland which covered low lying areas of Louisiana; this accounts for most of the 390 deaths.  To view Hurricane Audrey’s track go to:

9. Last Island (LA)

Year: 1856

Category: 4, probably 5

Deaths: 400

This legendary hurricane was named after the location it hit like many of the hurricanes prior to 1950.  On August 8, 1956 it was detected in the Gulf of Mexico as a minor hurricane with a small diameter.  It hit landfall on Last Island, Louisiana which was a popular resort town.  Legend has it that resort guests were dancing at a ball while weather conditions deteriorated outside.  The guests waited for the steamer that served the island named the Star to take them away from the island, but the ship ran aground while storm surges ravaged the island.  All of the buildings on the island were destroyed and the island is now made up of two islands which are now home to birds.  The Last Island Hurricane did not stop there however, New Orleans was drowned in over 13 inches of rain and every building in Abbeville, Louisiana was destroyed.  By the time it dissipated into a tropical storm on August 11th, it had killed 400 people with over 200 people from Last Island alone.  To look at the 1856 Last Island Hurricane storm track go to:

8. Great Labor Day Hurricane (FL)

Year: 1935

Category: 5

Deaths: 408

This horrific hurricane is the first documented category 5 hurricane to hit the United States during the 20th century.  It was first located as a tropical storm near the Bahamas on August 29, 1935.  By September 4th it had intensified as a category 4 as it hit the Florida Keys carrying along with it a 20 foot storm surge.  The combination of high winds and waves killed 408 people including World War I veteran workers.  To see a map of the Great Labor Day Hurricane’s track go to:

7. Great New England Hurricane (New England)


Category: 3 (upon US landfall)

Deaths: 682 – 800

Also known as the “Long Island Express” and “The Great Hurricane of 1938”, this has been the deadliest and costliest hurricane in New England history.  It was detected over the Atlantic Ocean on September 13, 1938 and passed Puerto Rico between September 18 and 19 most likely as a category 5 hurricane.  When it reached Long Island, New York and Connecticut it slowed down to a category 3 but sustained winds of 121 mph with 183 mph gusts.  10 to 12 foot storm surges crushed the coastlines and heavy rain flooded inland especially along the Connecticut River.  By the time it broke apart over Canada it had killed over 600 people.

To see the historical tracking of the New England Hurricane go to:

6. Georgia/South Carolina

Year: 1881

Category: 2

Deaths: 700 people

The category 2 hurricane came ashore in August 1881.  A storm surge completely submerged many of the barrier islands along the coast.  In total, 700 people were killed.  To see the historical track of the 1881 hurricane go to

5. Sea Islands (SC/GA/FL)


Category: 4

Deaths: 1000-2000 (directly attributed)

On August 27, 1893 the category 4 hurricane made landfall at the same time as the full moon phase which resulted in freakish storm surges that completely submerged many of the islands which were home to mostly African Americans.  At first the islands were thought to have made it though the storm and were not in need of aid.  Later, it was found that there were about 30,000 homeless people that were dying of malnutrition and from drinking contaminated water.  72 year old Clara Barton and her small team of worker came to the islands’ aid and stayed for an entire year to help the community get back onto it’s feet.  All in all, up to 2,500 people died from the devastating effect of the Sea Islands Hurricane.  

4. Katrina (LA,MS,AL,FL,GA)

Year: 2005

Category: 3

Deaths: 1500 (directly attributed)

Hurricane Katrina is one of the most widely known and one of the most infamous storms in United States history.  It was detected over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005 and crossed Florida as a low grade hurricane.  When it reached southeast Louisiana on August 29th,  it strengthened to a category 3, killed 1,5000 people, and caused over $81 billion in damage with it’s storm surges and flooding.  Today, parts of Mississippi still show the wreckage Katrina caused with row after row of cement foundations where museums, homes, and other buildings used to be.  Areas of Louisiana still struggle with rebuilding.  Many people who lived in the Katrina-hit areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia moved out of the area because of the devastating effect of the storm.  To date, Hurricane Katrina is considered the most costly hurricane in United States history as it cost the US $96 billion crushing the Hurricane Andrew’s record of $26.5 billion by a mile.  For satellite images, aftermath photos, and more go to

3. Cheniere Caminanda (LA,MS,FL)

Year: 1893

Category: 4

Deaths: 1,100 – 2,000

Also known as “The Great October Storm”, this hurricane is the deadliest hurricane in Louisiana history.  On September 27, 1893 it was spotted in the Caribbean Sea.  It intensified and became a category 4 storm where it initially hit Louisiana and devastated around 500 coastal miles between Timbalier Bay to Pensacola.  16 foot storm surges destroyed Grand Isle.  New Orleans became flooded. Various cities and towns like Bohemia were completely destroyed and no longer exist.  Historical records list the number of dead from 1,848 to 2,338 people, but contemporary records estimate the dead to be between 1,100 to 2,000 people.

2. Great Okeechobee Hurricane and Flood (FL)

Year: 1928

Category: 4

Deaths: 2,500 – 3,000

This ferocious storm makes the top of many lists: one of the ten most intense hurricanes to make United States landfall, the only hurricane to hit Puerto Rico as a Category 5, the 2nd deadliest natural disaster in United States history, and the worst storm in Florida history.  Although it is listed as killing about 2,500 people, that number is for the United States alone.  The hurricane killed at least 4,078 people in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Leeward Islands, Guadeloupe, and Florida.  It was first found moving westward in the Atlantic.  After crushing the Leeward Islands on September 12, laying waste to Puerto Rico on September 13, and driving through the Bahamas on September 15; it made it’s landfall in Palm Beach, Fl on September 16.  Although this hurricane killed many people, the worst tragedy was around Lake Okeechobee, located in the middle of Florida, where a huge lake surge killed 1,836 people alone.  To see an online historical track of the storm go to:

1. Great Galveston Hurricane (TX)

Year: 1900

Category:  4

Deaths: 6,000 – 12,000

Not only is the Galveston Hurricane the most deadly US hurricane, it also tops the FEMA list of the most deadly natural and accidental disasters in United States history.  On August 27, 1900 the weather system was first reported over the Atlantic Ocean.  On September 5th it had turned into a Tropical storm and had reached Cuba.  Two days later it had moved into the Gulf of Mexico and was rapidly intensifying.  By the time it had reached Galveston, Texas on September 8th, it had turned into a Category 4 hurricane.  Storm surges between 8 to 15 feet pounded Galveston Island as well as other areas on the Texan coast which pushed the death toll to an astounding estimation of 6,000 to 12,000 people.

To see the historical track this hurricane took go to

Even though we have sophisticated technologies to aid and guide us before, during, and after a hurricane; Hurricane Katrina should have at least taught us to never underestimate the power of “nature’s fury”.  Hopefully, the above vicious storms will be etched in time so that no new hurricanes will ever grace the list of the ten deadliest hurricanes of United States history.


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More about this author: Lisa Putnam

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