"At Barbados, where the cyclone had commenced it's terrible spiral, the wind was unchained with such fury, that the inhabitants hiding in their cellars did not hear their houses falling above their heads..." - Elisee' Reclus
"... a dreadful hurricane which began to rage with great fury at noon and continue with great violence till four o'clock the next morning, the 11th; At eight o'clock at night St. Thomas's parsonage was demolished and the church where the Rector and his family saought shelter began to fall about two hours after, the Chancel fell while the family were in the church ... St. Thomas's Chapel, St. Michael's, St. George's, Christ Church's and St. Lucy's churches were totally destroyed..."
- St. Thomas, Barbados, parish marriage registers, 1780
With all of the news recently of the terrible destruction wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, I thought it might bring some useful perspective to point out that there have been hurricanes which caused much greater loss of life back in the days before we gave hurricanes name designations. In fact on today's date, October 10 in 1780 a hurricane struck the West Indies that has the distinction of being the worst in history in terms of lives lost. What has become known a "the Great Hurricane of 1780" cost an estimated 20 to 22,000 lives.
The West Indies in 1780
The West Indies were a source of considerable riches for all of the
great powers of Europe by the late 1700's, as they were a rich source of spices and especially sugar. So by the end of the American Revolution, both England and France had significant naval assets patrolling the waters of this region. But on the evening of Oct. 10 both navies were dealt a serious blow not from cannon fire, but from the hurricane which ravaged the entire area. The skies have been reported as having been orange that night before the hurricane hit at about 10:00. It raged on for eight days throughout the area, especially the island of Barbados, completely destroying it, leaving nary a tree nor a building still standing.
It then moved on to St. Lucia wherein the fleet of 12 ships of the British Navy under the command of Admiral George Radney had been anchored. Eight of these warships were sunk with the loss of hundreds of sailors and soldiers (The area of the hurricane is in the map above). But the French got a worse hit than the Brits when a fleet of 40 ships were vanquished by the storm with a loss of 4,000 sailors & soldiers sustained. Admiral Radney wrote of the destruction: “The strongest buildings and the whole of the houses, most of which were stone, and remarkable for their solidity, gave way to the fury of the wind, and were torn up to their foundations; all the forts destroyed, and many of the heavy cannon carried upwards of a hundred feet from the forts. Had I not been an eyewitness, nothing could have induced me to have believed it. More than six thousand persons perished, and all the inhabitants are entirely ruined.”
"A general convulsion of nature seemed to take place..."
"Whole families were buried in the ruins of their inhabitations; and many, in attempting to escape, were maimed and disabled. A general convulsion of nature seemed to take place, and a universal destruction ensued. The strongest colours could not paint to your Lordship the miseries of the inhabitants: on the one hand, the ground covered with the mangled bodies of their friends and relations, on the other, reputable families, wandering through the ruins, seeking for food and shelter; in short, imagination can form but a faint idea of the horrors of this dreadful scene."
- Maj. Gen. Vaughn. Comm. of British forces in the area.
On it's path of devastation through the West Indies, the hurricane,
packing winds of up to 200 mph, killed over 20,000 people, maybe as many as 24,000, thus making the Great Hurricane of 1780 the deadliest hurricane in Atlantic hurricane history.
"Darkest Hours - the Great Book of Worldwide Disasters" by J. Robert Nash, Wallaby Books,
New York. 1976