The Extensive & Far-Reaching History of Hurricanes in Puerto Rico


SAN JUAN — On more than several occasions in the past century, hurricanes ravaged the impoverished island of Puerto Rico and caused extensive financial damage. Sources may vary about the rate of hurricanes striking the island, but one thing is consistently clear: hurricanes in Puerto Rico are frequent.

According to three researchers at Harvard, it is possible that all records of storms prior to 1851 were lost because the storms did not cause widespread damage. While several hurricanes have hit the Puerto Rican landscape, this article will focus on three notable storms in the history of hurricanes in Puerto Rico.

The San Felipe Hurricane

One of the deadliest storms ever to hit Puerto Rico was the San Felipe II Hurricane, also known as the Lake Okeechobee Hurricane The storm was a Category 5 hurricane and it made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 13, 1928 with winds of 160 mph. The wind strength may have increased beyond 160 mph, but unfortunately, the public has no way of factually knowing because the wind anemometer was destroyed from the storm’s intense winds.

Towns near the storm’s eye and the strongest part of the eye wall were literally blown off the map. Forests at higher elevations were almost completely destroyed, and the storm lasted 12-18 hours and rainfall exceeded 640 mm. Three hundred and twelve people died, and damage to property was estimated to be $50,000,000.

Hurricane Hugo

On September 18, 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck Puerto Rico flinging cars, houses and foliage to and fro. The LA Times reported it left about 300,000 people homeless; The New York Times reported 28,000 people homeless. While sources differ on the amounts of people left without shelter, sources still agree that numerous Puerto Ricans were left with nowhere to go.

Hugo was one of the worst disasters on the island since the San Felipe storm. Hugo’s winds registered at around 100 mph. It caused mass devastation to an already poor nation. At the time of landfall, two-thirds of the population were living beneath the poverty line. In addition, Jaime B. Fuster, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington said the storm destroyed the island’s agriculture, leaving people without sustenance; storm damage, indeed, made life even more difficult in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Georges

Nine years later, and just when Puerto Ricans thought they had experienced the worst with Hugo, the 1998 disaster of Hurricane Georges struck. With winds of 115 mph, Georges left large groups of people without electricity, and caused 80 percent of the 3.8 million residents to lose access to water and telephone service. In addition, the storm also caused at least $1 billion in damages.

According to the New York Times, it was the eighth hurricane to strike Puerto Rico since the beginning of the 20th Century, and the most powerful to strike since San Felipe. Local radio and television stations reported five people died – three in a landslide and two from heart attacks — but policemen did not confirm these reports.

The history of hurricanes in Puerto Rico is long and vast — so vast, in fact, that the island is credited with being the earliest to name hurricanes. The people named storms after a Catholic Saint honored on the day the storm arrived, and the recent landfall of Hurricane Irma indicates Puerto Rico’s history with tempests is far from concluding. Despite the frequency of storms hitting the poverty-stricken island, the response to recent hurricanes evokes hope.

The camaraderie created amongst Americans in their shared compassion for victims of Hurricane Harvey shows that everyone has the capacity to help those in need. Hopefully this urgency to help others will have a ripple effect globally, and inspire everyone to lend a helping hand to our fellow humans.

Jeanine Thomas

Photo: Flickr


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