With Hurricane Isaac still fresh in our minds, and Texas, obviously, a hurricane prone state, I went looking for a list of the worst hurricanes of all time and got several big surprises.
In the top 10 hurricanes, measured by loss of life, only one happened in the last 57 years.
It’s the one you’d think, of course....Katrina.
But when you stop and think, it sure makes sense there would be more loss of life from a hurricane in the first half of the 20th Century, than the last.
Communication and information are the keys. Think of the waves of people we’ve seen here in Rockdale fleeing Gulf storms.
You don’t get out of harm’s way unless you know about the storm. So many in these “top 10” were killed by storms they didn’t know about until it was too late.
One of these storms has a couple of sidelights that are so ironic, you’d think someone made them up, and in one case somebody did:
1. The Galveston Hurricane, Sept. 8, 1900—Still the worst natural disaster of any kind in U. S. history. The storm was unknown until it hit Cuba as a tropical storm on Sept. 3.
Five days later it quickly isolated Galveston Island, leaving residents of Texas’ largest city with no escape and no real high ground to seek shelter from a storm surge between 8 to 15 feet.
Between 6,000 and 12,000 died.
2. San Felipe-Okeechobee Hurricane, Sept. 16- 17, 1928—This giant storm settled over Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida, sending it over its swampy banks.
By the time it had run its course, 1,830 people had died in Florida and another 312 in Puerto Rico.
3. Hurricane Katrina, Aug. 25-29, 2005—The one we all remember, 800 deaths mostly in Louisiana. What I didn’t remember is that Katrina “weakened” from a Category 5 to a Category 4 shortly before making landfall or the death toll might have even been higher.
4. “ The Long Island Express,” Sept. 20-22, 1938— Logging at least 600 fatalities, this late September storm brought 12 to 16-foot surges to the Atlantic coast from North Carolina all the way to New York.
5. The Labor Day Hurricane, Sept. 2-3, 1935—One of the most famous storms of all time and the source of all the weird stuff I mentioned at the beginning of this column.
For starters, it hit Florida as a Category 5. People who keep track of such things say it was one of only three Category 5s ever to hit the United States. (The others were Camille in 1969 and Andrew in 1992).
It caused 423 deaths. Why do we have such exact figures? Tragically, because it struck a work camp composed of World War I veterans, killing most of them, about half of all those dying from the hurricane.
Weird Stuff I: The 1948 classic movie “Key Largo,” starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson was based on the Labor Day Hurricane.
Weird Stuff II: Anybody recognize the date Sept. 3, 1935? At the same time Florida was having an epic hurricane, Scarbrough & Hicks was burning down in Rockdale, an era-ending tragedy which took the lives of two Rockdale volunteer firefighters.
6. Hurricane Audrey, June 26, 1957—An early-season hurricane that hit Louisiana with 8 to 12-foot storm surges and killed 390 people, most of them well inland from the coast.
7. The Great Miami Hurricane, Sept. 18, 1926—A “worse case” scenario 86 years ago would have been for a major metropolitan area to get hit with a big hurricane and very little advance warning.
That’s what happened here. Most Miami residents didn’t even know a storm was on the way when this one hit, killing 375, mostly in the ironically named town of Moore Haven.
8. The Grand Isle Hurricane, Sept. 20, 1909—Yet another New Orleans hurricane, striking the Louisiana coast and killing 350 persons.
9. The Atlantic-Gulf Hurricane, Sept. 10-14, 1919—A rarity, this storm wreaked havoc on the Florida Keys, then raced all the way across the Gulf of Mexico and struck Texas.
Death toll was put at 287 on the mainland (both states) but the storm struck so quickly more than 500 lives may have been lost at sea.
10. (tie) unnamed storms Aug. 5 and Sept. 30, 1915—The first hit Galveston (yes, again, just 15 years after the 1900 mega-disaster), testing the new seawall built to protect the island.
The second hit New Orleans, breaching levees on Lake Pontchartrain, ironically a foreshadowing of what would happen in Hurricane Katrina, 90 years in the future.
About 275 persons died in each of those storms, just 56 days apart.