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Volume No. 1 Issue No. 48 - Friday September 12, 2003
Tracing the Disruptive Power of Hurricanes in Dominica
by Thomson Fontaine


Even as Hurricane Isabel barreled through the waters of the Atlantic with winds upwards of 160 mph, residents of the United States and the lesser Antilles could not help but reflect on the awesome destructive power of these natural phenomena. For instance, geologists believe that layers of sediment at the bottom of a lake in Alabama were brought there from the nearby Gulf of Mexico by storm surges associated with intense hurricanes that occurred as much as 3,000 years ago.

Hurricanes are one of nature’s most destructive forces and over hundreds of years tens of thousands of lives have been lost as a result of these winds, rain, swells and flooding rivers. In a study done by E. Rappaport and J. Partogas, they found that whenever there was a large loss of life from tropical cyclones, the predominant cause of death was drowning, not wind or wind blown objects or structural failures. Fortunately, many more lives can now be saved because of advances in weather prediction and better building structures to withstand these forces of nature.

With the legacies of Atlantic tropical cyclones predating many cultures and thousands of years, the largest loss of life in a hurricane is known to have occurred in the Lesser Antilles in mid-October 1780, during what became known as The Great Hurricane. Estimates indicate that around 22,000 deaths occurred in that storm, with a total of about 9,000 lives lost in Martinique, 4,000-5,000 in St. Eustatius, and 4,326 in Barbados. Thousands of deaths also occurred offshore.

The Great Hurricane also caused far more deaths than documented in any other storm. The second largest loss (the largest in the United States) came during the 1900 Galveston hurricane. Estimates of persons killed ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 fatalities. Three other storms killed around 8,000 people: 1974 Hurricane Fifi in Honduras; a 1930 hurricane in the Dominican Republic; and 1963 Hurricane Flora in Haiti and Cuba. There is also a list of 39 instances of at least 1,000 fatalities.

Interestingly enough, while Dominica’s two closest neighbors Martinique and Guadeloupe have lost thousands of lives in single hurricanes, Dominica has been a lot more fortunate. On September 6, 1776 more than 6,000 lives were lost in Guadeloupe and as previously noted more than 9,000 were lost in Martinique. In the case of Dominica, the largest single loss of life was on August 14, 1788 when upwards of five hundred were killed. In 1806, within days of each other on September 9 and again on September 20, 450 and 165 individuals were killed in two separate hurricanes.

The earliest recorded deaths from a hurricane in Dominica dates back to 1567. According to one account, “six ships carrying three million pesos were wrecked in a storm off Dominica. The island natives killed all the survivors”. At that time the ‘island natives’ were predominantly Carib Indians and this episode helped feed the belief that the Carib Indians were “warlike, cannibals and fierce, and hence much to be feared”.

Hurricane David, which slammed into Dominica in 1979 has been recorded as the 18th most destructive storm in all of recorded history. In that storm, 2 068 souls were lost in Dominica (32), the Dominican Republic and the United States. Other times when hurricanes have claimed more than fifty lives in Dominica were on: (i) October 21, 1817 when a combined total of about 250 persons were killed (about a quarter of this in St. Lucia); (ii) September 20, 1834, more than 200; (iii) hurricane Dorothy on August 20, 1971 with a total of 51 killed; and (iv) August 28, 1916 when about 50 souls perished.


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Volume No. 1 Issue No. 48
Classicism and Racism Appears Rampant
Must Attend Dominica Picnic
Tracing the Destructive Power of Hurricanes
Dr. Tavernier: Leader in Agricultural Policy Research
Disturbing Shadows




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