When it comes to the wrath of mother nature, few events can compare to hurricanes. The best that can be said for them is that, unlike tornadoes, today, they can be tracked and predicted well in advance, giving people in their path time to prepare. The worst aspect of these horrendous storms is that they affect a large area, produce sustained violent winds that may last several days, and storm surges that flood entire cities. Before modern radar tracking, coastal residents had little warning, and no idea what the intensity of the approaching storm would be.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, all of the deadliest hurricanes in the U.S. that have been recorded, have happened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and in the 20th century, they all occurred before 1957. Today, thanks to modern tracking capability, warnings, well in advance of the storm, advances in building materials, preparation and evacuation, the number of deaths due to hurricanes has been steadily decreasing, however an increase in population over the last century along coastal areas has increasing put more people in danger.
In the 19th century two hurricanes, recorded in 1893, affected South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana. It was estimated that these two hurricanes took over 3,000 lives. Another hurricane, in 1891, took another 700. From 1900, through 1957, several more deadly hurricanes have hit the U.S. and other countries as they passed along the hurricane belt.
Certainly, the hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900 overshadows all others in number of deaths. As many as 8,000 people are believed to have died as a result of this category 4 storm that made landfall on September 8, and brought with it winds of 145 miles per hour. Some estimates, however, list the death toll closer to 12,000. One of the most tragic events of the storm was the loss in one location of 10 Nuns and 90 orphans.
In 1928, Lake Okeechobee, Florida was the site of a category 4 hurricane that claimed between 1,800 and 2,500 lives in the U.S., but nearly 5,000 overall as it made its way through Cuba, the Leeward Islands, and the Bahamas. In August, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 with winds at over 175 miles per hour, hit the Louisiana coast taking over 1,800 lives.
Two hurricanes, a category 4 in 1919, and a category 3 in 1938 each took between 600 and 800 lives. The 1919 hurricane hit the very vulnerable Florida Keys and Corpus Christi, Texas. In 1938, a hurricane struck New England, making landfall on Long Island. This very unusual and unexpected event was the first hurricane to strike New England since 1869.
Florida was once again the site of another deadly hurricane in 1935, arriving in the Florida Keys on Labor Day as a category 5. This particular hurricane was most remembered for the many WW 1 veterans who lost their lives while working on government projects in the direct path of the storm. It was estimated that over 400 lives were lost. Two more hurricanes, one in 1944 that struck the coastline at Hatteras, North Carolina as a category 3, and Hurricane Audrey in 1957, a category 4 that hit eastern Texas and western Louisiana, also took around 400 lives.
While modern technology has improved the ability to predict and track these violent acts of nature, history has shown they are still extremely dangerous, and while they can’t be prevented, no amount of preparation for their arrival is too extreme.