Based on the direct death toll and economic losses, here are the top five most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history prior to 2011.
Galveston, Texas, hurricane (1900)
Death toll: 8,000
Cost: $30 million
Location: Texas (interactive map)
Category (highest level reached): 4
Duration: Detected as early as August 27, named a tropical storm on September 3 and made its way to Texas by September 8, according to the National Hurricane Center.
John D. Blagden, of the Galveston Weather Bureau, wrote to his family in a letter: "In the quarter of the city where I lodged (south part) everything was swept and nearly all drowned. The family with whom I roomed were all lost."
Prior to 1954 there was no official naming system for hurricanes. This unnamed hurricane claimed the most lives of any storm in U.S. history. The National Hurricane Center attributes 8,000 deaths to this hurricane, mostly due to storm tides. Other death-toll figures are estimated as high as 12,000 and as low as 6,000. Even at 6,000, the Galveston hurricane is easily the country's deadliest hurricane.
Okeechobee hurricane (1928)
Death toll: 2,500. According to the Florida Sun-Sentinel, the National Hurricane Center increased the number from 1,836 to 2,500 in 2003.
Cost: $75 to $100 million; $1.3 billion (2010 dollars)
Duration: Spotted on Sept. 19, elevated to Category 4 on Sept. 13 and made landfall in Florida on Sept. 17.
The 1928 Okeechobee hurricane "killed half the population of western Palm Beach County and left every corner of the county tattered and broken," according to Sun-Sentinel. The Okeechobee hurricane, which some residents only knew about because of neighbors who went knocking on doors to warn them, caused $75 million worth of property damage in Florida and Puerto Rico, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Hurricane Katrina (2005)
Death toll: Estimated at 1,200 and 1,833 or more
Location: New Orleans, Florida and Mississippi
Duration: Reached Category 5 on Aug. 28, made landfall on Aug. 29
CNN producer Kim Segal said: "It was chaos. There was nobody there, nobody in charge. And there was nobody giving even water. The children . . they're all just in tears. There are sick people. We saw . . . people who are dying in front of you."
Hurricane Katrina is the hurricane many think of as one of the most destructive storms in the United States and based on economic losses, they'd be right. Katrina is "costliest U. S. hurricane on record," according to the National Hurricane Center.
What is not as clear, is the number of deaths associated with Hurricane Katrina. The number of direct deaths attributed to Katrina, by the the National Hurricane Center lists different numbers, including 1,200 and 1,833 (NHC Tropical Cyclone Report Hurricane Katrina). The indirect death toll amount, in the months and years since the storm is still a mystery and a controversy according to the Houston Chronicle. Even the State of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals lists its own death toll for "deceased Hurricane victims of Hurricane Katrina from Louisiana," a 1,464 number which does not include the deaths from Mississippi and Florida.
Chenière Caminada Hurricane (1893)
Death toll: 2,000
Cost: $5 million ($121 million in 2010 dollars)
Location: Chenière Caminada
Duration: First spotted on Sept. 27 and became a Category 4 on Oct. 1, hitting the island on Oct. 2.
From "Scribner's" magazine: "In the settlements where the storm was worst, not a single child survived, and very few women... . in the center of the storm-where 200 fishermen dwelt-not a soul escaped.".
The report was about one of the lesser known hurricanes, "The Great October Storm," which took the lives of an estimated 2,000 people due to the storm surge affecting Louisiana's island of Chenière Caminada.
South Carolina-Georgia Hurricane, a.k.a. Sea Islands hurricane
Death toll: 1,000 to 2,000+
Cost: $1 million (1893 dollars); $24.1 million (2010 dollars)
Location: South Carolina and Georgia
Duration: Formed as a tropical storm on Aug. 15 and strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane on Aug. 22. It hit land on Aug. 27 and 28.
The South Carolina-Georgia Hurricane brought a storm surge that claimed the lives of 1,000 Charleston residents. Another 2,000 were killed on the Sea Islands and 2,542 survivors of the hurricane were diagnosed with malaria. Clara Barton was among the Red Cross workers there to help the hurricane survivors.
- Natural Phenomena
- Nature & Environment
- National Hurricane Center
- Hurricane Katrina