The Top 10 Deadliest U.S. Hurricanes

ByABC News

Sept. 2, 2004 -- Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show the deadliest hurricanes happened prior to 1950, before forecasters began to fully grasp the dangers of flooding, storm surge and other hurricane-related hazards.

Below are the top 10 deadliest hurricanes since 1900, as assessed by NOAA, as well as other hurricanes whose powerful, destructive impact is seared in memory.

Forecasters only began assigning hurricanes female names in 1950, and began alternating male and female names in 1979. Before 1950, fierce storms often came to be known by the names of the areas where they caused the most damage.

The 10 Deadliest Hurricanes

1. Galveston Hurricane, Year: 1900, U.S. Deaths: 6,000-12,000

By the time this storm reached the Texas coast south of Galveston late on Sept. 8, it was a Category 4 hurricane. After landfall, the cyclone turned northward through the Great Plains and then northeast, passing across the Great Lakes, New England and southeastern Canada.

This hurricane was the deadliest weather disaster in U.S. history. Storm tides of eight to 15 feet inundated the whole of Galveston Island, as well as other portions of the nearby Texas coast. These tides were largely responsible for the 8,000 deaths (estimates range from 6,000 to 12,000) attributed to the storm. The damage to property was estimated at $30 million.

2. San Felipe-Okeechobee Hurricane, Year: 1928, U.S. Deaths: 1,836

This classic Cape Verde hurricane (this refers to ones that develop near the Cape Verde Islands) was first detected over the tropical Atlantic on Sept. 10. It made landfall near Palm Beach, Fla., on Sept. 16 and turned north-northeastward over the Florida Peninsula, a motion that brought the remains of the storm to eastern North Carolina by Sept. 19.

It is estimated to be the fourth-strongest hurricane on record to hit the United States and caused heavy casualties and extensive destruction along its path from the Leeward Islands to Florida. The worst tragedy occurred at inland Lake Okeechobee in Florida, where the hurricane caused a lake surge of six to nine feet that inundated the surrounding area. A total of 1,836 people died in Florida, mainly due to the lake surge. Damage to property was estimated at $25 million.

3. Atlantic-Gulf Hurricane, Year: 1919, U.S. Deaths: 600-900

This fearsome storm was first detected near the Lesser Antilles on Sept. 2. By the time it passed just south of Key West, Fla., it was a large hurricane of Category 4 intensity. A continued west to west-northwestward motion brought the center to the Texas coast south of Corpus Christi as a Category 3 hurricane on Sept. 14.

This storm, estimated to be the third most intense to hit the United States, occurred over the Florida Keys and the central and south Texas coast. A storm surge of up to 12 feet inundated Corpus Christ, Texas, causing major damage to the coastal areas. The death toll was estimated at 600 to 900 people. Of these, more than 500 were lost on 10 ships that either sunk or were reported missing. Damage in the United States was estimated at $22 million.

4. New England Hurricane, Year: 1938, U.S. Deaths: 600

The "Long Island Express" was first detected over the tropical Atlantic on Sept. 13. By the time it landed over Long Island and Connecticut on Sept. 20 it was a Category 3 hurricane.

Blue Hill Observatory in Massachusetts measured sustained winds of 121 mph with gusts to 183 mph. Storm surges of 10 to 12 feet inundated portions of the coast from Long Island and Connecticut eastward to southeastern Massachusetts. Heavy rains before and during the hurricane produced river flooding, most notably along the Connecticut River.

This hurricane struck with little warning and was responsible for 600 deaths and $308 million in damage in the United States.

5. Florida Keys Labor Day Hurricane, Year: 1935, U.S. Deaths: 408

This storm hit the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane and then faded to a Category 2 as it touched down near Cedar Key, Fla. A northeastward motion took the storm across the southeastern United States to the Atlantic coast near Norfolk, Va.

The small but vicious storm was measured to be the most intense hurricane of record to hit the United States and the second-most intense hurricane of record in the Atlantic basin.

The combination of winds and tides were responsible for 408 deaths in the Florida Keys, primarily among World War I veterans working in the area. Damage in the United States was estimated at $6 million.

6. Hurricane Audrey, Year: 1957, U.S. Deaths: 390

Audrey was first detected over the southwestern Gulf of Mexico on June 24. Due to rapid strengthening in the last six hours before landfall, Audrey came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm turned northeastward after landfall, becoming extratropical over northern Mississippi on June 28 and merging with another low over the Great Lakes the next day. The combined system was responsible for strong winds and heavy rains over portions of the eastern United States and Canada.

The main impact was from 8- to 12-foot storm surges that penetrated as far inland as 25 miles over portions of low-lying southwestern Louisiana. These surges were responsible for the vast majority of the 390 deaths from Audrey. Damage in the United States was estimated at $150 million.

7. Great Atlantic Hurricane, Year: 1944, U.S. Deaths: 390

This large and powerful hurricane was first detected northeast of the Leeward Islands on Sept. 9. The storm accelerated north-northeastward, moving across eastern New England and into Canada by Sept. 15. This hurricane was of Category 3 intensity at landfalls at Cape Hatteras, N.C., Long Island, N.Y., and Point Judith, R.I., and Category 2 as far north as the coast of Maine.

While this hurricane caused 46 deaths and $100 million in damage in the United States, the worst effects occurred at sea, where the storm wreaked havoc on World War II shipping. Five ships, including a U.S. Navy destroyer and minesweeper, two U.S. Coast Guard cutters and a light vessel sank due to the storm, causing 344 deaths.

8. Great Miami Hurricane, Year: 1926, U.S. Deaths: 373

The "Great Miami Hurricane" was first spotted as a tropical wave located 1,000 miles east of the Lesser Antilles on Sept. 11. Little in the way of meteorological information on the approaching hurricane was available, so hurricane warnings were not issued until midnight on Sept. 18, which gave the booming population of South Florida little notice of the impending disaster.

The Category 4 hurricane's eye moved directly over Miami Beach and downtown Miami during the morning hours of Sept. 18. A storm surge of nearly 15 feet was reported in Coconut Grove. Many casualties resulted as people ventured outdoors during the half-hour lull in the storm as the eye passed overhead. Most residents, having never experienced a hurricane, believed that the storm had passed during the lull. They were suddenly trapped and exposed to the eastern half of the hurricane shortly thereafter. Every building in the downtown district of Miami was damaged or destroyed. The town of Moore Haven on the south side of Lake Okeechobee was completely flooded by lake surge from the hurricane. Hundreds of people in Moore Haven alone were killed by this surge, which left behind floodwaters in the town for weeks afterward.

The hurricane continued to the central Gulf Coast with 24 hours of heavy rainfall, hurricane force winds, and storm surge. The hurricane weakened as it moved inland over Louisiana later on Sept. 21. Nearly every pier, warehouse and vessel on Pensacola Bay was destroyed.

The hurricane ended the economic boom in South Florida and would be a $90 billion disaster had it occurred in recent times. With a highly transient population across southeastern Florida during the 1920s, the death toll is uncertain since more than 800 people were missing in the aftermath of the cyclone. A Red Cross report listed 373 deaths.

9. The Grand Isle Hurricane, Year: 1909, U.S. Deaths: 350

The Grand Isle Hurricane came ashore on Sept. 20, 1909, at Berwick, La., before passing inland between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The Category 4 storm caused $6 million of damage and its 15-foot storm surge inundated much of southern Louisiana. The storm killed at least 350 people.

10. Galveston and New Orleans Hurricanes Year: 1915, U.S. Deaths: 275 each

On Aug. 16, Galveston, Texas, was the site of a very large and violent storm. Despite a 10-foot-high sea wall built after the 1900 hurricane, storm tides 12 feet above normal flooded the business district to a depth of six feet. A total of 275 people lost their lives from a combination of high water and strong winds. On Sept. 29, another ferocious hurricane of similar intensity to the August storm occurred, reaching the Louisiana coast. At Burrwood, La., winds were clocked at 125-140 mph. As many as 90 percent of the buildings were destroyed. There were fatalities at several places on the Mississippi River below New Orleans and on Lake Pontchartrain, La. An estimated 275 lives were lost despite advanced warnings.

Memorable Hurricanes

Hurricane Camille, Year: 1969, U.S. Deaths: 256

This powerful, Category 4 hurricane made landfall along the Mississippi coast and weakened to a tropical depression as it crossed Mississippi into western Tennessee and Kentucky. Then it turned eastward across West Virginia and Virginia.

The actual maximum sustained winds will never be known, since the hurricane destroyed all the wind-recording instruments in the landfall area. The heaviest rains along the Gulf Coast were about 10 inches. However, as Camille passed over the Virginias, it produced a burst of 12- to 20-inch rains with local totals of up to 31 inches. Most of this rain occurred in three to five hours and caused catastrophic flash flooding.

The combination of winds, surges and rainfalls caused 256 deaths (143 on the Gulf Coast and 113 in the Virginia floods) and $1.421 billion in damage.

Hurricane Andrew, Year: 1992, U.S. Deaths: 23

One of the most destructive United States hurricanes of record started modestly as a tropical wave that emerged from the west coast of Africa. After briefly weakening over the Bahamas, Andrew regained Category 4 status as it blasted its way across South Florida. The hurricane continued westward into the Gulf of Mexico where it gradually turned northward. This motion brought Andrew to the central Louisiana coast as a Category 3 hurricane. Andrew then turned northeastward, eventually merging with a frontal system over the Mid-Atlantic states.

Reports from private barometers helped establish that Andrew's central pressure at landfall in Homestead, Fla., was 27.23 inches, which makes it the third-most intense hurricane of record to hit the United States. Andrew produced a 17-foot storm surge near the landfall point in Florida, while storm tides of at least eight feet inundated portions of the Louisiana coast. Andrew also produced a killer tornado in southeastern Louisiana.

Andrew was responsible for 23 deaths in the United States and three more in the Bahamas. The hurricane caused $26.5 billion in damage in the United States, of which $1 billion occurred in Louisiana and the rest in South Florida.

Hurricane Floyd, Year: 1999, U.S. Deaths: 56

Floyd was first detected as a tropical storm that moved off the African coast on Sept. 2 and was a Category 2 hurricane as it struck North Carolina. The storm continued north-northeastward along the coast of the Mid-Atlantic into New England, where the storm became extratropical.

While wind gusts of 120 mph and storm surges of nine to 10 feet were reported from the North Carolina coast, Floyd will be most remembered in the United States for its rainfall. The combination of Floyd and a frontal system over the eastern United States produced widespread rainfalls in excess of 10 inches from North Carolina northeastward. These rains caused widespread severe flooding that led to the majority of the $3 billion to $6 billion in damage caused by Floyd. These floods also were responsible for 50 of the 56 deaths caused by Floyd in the United States.

Hurricane Isabel, Year: 2003, U.S. Deaths: 40

This major hurricane formed in the Atlantic Ocean in September 2003. When it blasted the U.S. East Coast on Sept. 18, it became the first hurricane to make landfall on the East Coast since 1999. Isabel came ashore in North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane and brought torrential rain and tropical storm force winds to a large area of the mid-Atlantic coast. In the Atlantic, Isabel reached Category 5, the first storm to do so since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Reports indicate that at least 40 people died as a result of the storm and destruction was estimated at close to $1 billion, with North Carolina's Outer Banks incurring most of the damage.

Source: NOAA

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events