This Day In History: Hurricane Gilbert Hits Jamaica (1998)

This day in history, hurricane Gilbert hits Jamaica in 1998. The storm hit the island and it caused hundreds of deaths on the popular holiday island. The storm after causing devastation in Jamaica went on to kill more people in Mexico and cause tornadoes in Texas.

On September the tenth, Gilbert was raised to the status of a hurricane as it approached the coast of the Dominican Republic. Barometer readings only measured 26.13 the lowest ever recorded prior to the arrival of the hurricane. Gilbert was believed to be heading towards Puerto Rico, before it suddenly skirted by the Dominican Republic and Haiti before it headed for Jamaica. On September the twelfth, the hurricane hit Jamaica.  The island had little time to prepare and this meant that many people were not evacuated.

The hurricane brought winds of 175 miles per hour and caused widespread devastation. The hurricane had a 40-mile-wide eye, the hurricane engulfed the entire island.

Some of the damage caused by Hurricane Gilbert

Much of the housing in Jamaica, especially of the poor  was not sturdy and many houses had only tin roofs and were poorly constructed and whole neighborhoods in Kingston and other Jamaican towns and cities are leveled. They collapsed in the high winds and the rain and many people became trapped in their own homes.  Some half a million homes were damaged during the hurricane and many completely destroyed.  Some one million people are left without homes and over 200 people lose their lives. The emergency services could not cope and the island nation’s infrastructure was very badly damaged. The electricity grid was very badly damaged. It is estimated that the hurricane caused over one billion dollars’ worth of damage and it took Jamaica many years to recover. It was one of the worst hurricanes ever recorded in Jamaican history. However, Gilbert was to bring more destruction and tragedy.

Gilbert after devastating Jamaica headed back out to the Gulf of Mexico and struck the coast of Mexico near the popular tourist spot of Cancun. The resort town lost half of its hotels and some 30,000 people are left homeless in and around the popular resort.

As the storm moved toward the peninsula’s west side, tens of thousands were forced to flee.  The storm then headed north and sank a Cuban ship and a shrimp trawler with the loss of 28 lives. The hurricane caused extensive flooding in northern Mexico and some 200 people were killed or missing.  The majority of those killed died on buses that were caught in a sudden flash flood. In all, almost 200,000 Mexicans were left homeless by Gilbert. In addition to these deaths in Mexico, several deaths were reported in Texas because of extreme weather caused by Gilbert, even when it had been downgraded to a tropical storm.