The greatest of all Hurricanes occurred from October 10 - 16, 1780. as the storm hit virtually every island from Tobago in the south east through the Leeward Islands across to Hispaniola. The death toll was 4,500 in Barbados, 9,000 in Martinique and 4,500 in St. Eustatius. [Source: Disaster Mitigation Guidelines by PAHO] .and so we remember the 225th Anniversary of the GREAT Hurricane, where so many died.
The following article is by Dr. Colin Depradine, the Principal of the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH). (The article was originally published in "The Advisory", The 35th Anniversary Edition of the CIMH, 2002.)
The Great Hurricane of October 10, 1780, is arguably, the most destructive hurricane to have struck Barbados and the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. It is estimated that 22,000 persons lost their lives in Barbados, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Martinique.
The following quotation from a book by Reclus (1873) gives an approximate idea of the violence of this storm:
"Starting from Barbados, where neither trees nor dwellings were left standing, it caused the English fleet anchored off St. Lucia to disappear and completely ravaged this island, where 6000 persons were crushed under the ruins. After this, the whirlwind tending toward Martinique, enveloped a convoy of French transports, and sunk more than 40 ships carrying 4000 soldiers; on land, the town of St. Pierre and other places ere completely razed by the rind, and 9000 persons perished there. More to the north, Dominique, St. Eustatius, St. Vincent (?) and Porto Rico were likewise devastated and most of the vessels which were on the path of the cyclone foundered, with all their crews. Beyond Porto Rico, the tempest bent to the north-east, toward the Bermudas and though its violence had gradually diminished, it sunk several English warships returning to Europe."
The following quotation is from a letter from Sir George Rodney to Lady Rodney dated at St. Lucia, December 10, 1780 on the effects of the storm on Barbados:
"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."
Some indication of the violence of the storm can be gleaned from a letter from Dr. Gilbert Blane, in Barbados, to Dr. Hunter in which he writes.
".........what will give as strong an idea of the force of the wind as anything, many of them (of the trees) were stripped of their bark".
Dr. Jose Millas writes that in hurricanes in which the wind has reached 200 miles an hour in the most severe gusts, this phenomenon has not been mentioned. In the Havana hurricane of October 18, 1944 the maximum wind velocity was measured at 163 miles an hour and the bark of the trees remained in tact. He suggests that tiny water bullets would have to reach the trees with a very, very great velocity so as to be able to strip them of their bark. Probably that velocity must be greater than 200 miles an hour.
Major -General Cunninghame, Governor of Barbados, in his account of the Hurricane at Barbados wrote:
"The armory was leveled to the ground, and the arms scattered about. The buildings were all demolished; for so violent was the storm here, when assisted by the sea, that a 12 pounder gun was carried from the south to the north battery, a distance of 140 yards.. The loss to this country is immense: many years will be required to retrieve it".
The following quotation from a paper by Dr. Gilbert Blane in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh is instructive:
"There had been nothing that could be called a hurricane felt at Barbados for more than a century before 1780, so that the inhabitants began to think themselves exempt from such calamities and accordingly had no edifices of sufficient strength to withstand the force of a hurricane".
The Editor of "The West Indian" - a Barbados paper, writing about the 1831 Hurricane mentions the 1780 hurricane. He wrote:
"At dawn of day (October 10th), the wind rushing with a mighty force from the northwest.. Towards evening the storm increased, and at nine o'clock had attained its height, but it continued to rage till four next morning, when there was a temporary lull. Before day-break, the castle and forts, the church, every public building and almost every house in Bridgetown, were leveled with the earth".
It is evident that the "lull" does not correspond to the centre of the storm.
Coke in his History of the West Indies (1808) said:
"To estimate, with accuracy, the damage which the colony received in all its departments would be an impossible task. The calculation which was made soon after the mournful occasion, estimated the loss at little less than one million and a half sterling".
- At St. Christopher's many vessels were forced on shore.
- At St. Lucia, all the barracks and huts for His Majesty's troops and other buildings in the island, were blown down, and the ships driven to sea; only two houses were left standing in the town.
- At Dominica, they suffered greatly.
- At. St. Vincent, every building was blown down and the town destroyed.
- At Grenada, nineteen sail of loaded Dutch ships were stranded and beaten to pieces.
- At Martinique, all the ships that were bringing troops and provisions were blown off the island. In the town of St. Pierre, every house was blown down and more than 1000 people perished. The number of people who perished in Martinique was said to be 9000.
- At. St. Eustatia, the loss was very great. Between 4000 and 5000 persons are said to have lost their lives.
Millas estimates that the hurricane developed in the Atlantic possibly in the vicinity of 12°N and 38°W. It moved westward very slowly at little more than 6 nautical miles per hour. When its centre was about 120 nautical miles east of Barbados, it began to curve and move between West by North and West-Northwest. After crossing a very short distance north of Barbados, it took a more North-Westerly track passing East of St. Lucia, Southwest of St. Kitts, South of Puerto Rico changing course for Mona Island, recurving and passing East of the Turks Islands, recurving to pass South East of Bermuda, moving North-East.
The hurricane season of 1780 was one of great activity with the first storm occurring on June 13.