The Deadliest, Most Destructive Hurricanes Ever

Hurricanes can instill fear in the public due to their ability to level entire towns, throwing communities into turmoil. When a hurricane strikes, the lives of people and animals settled along the shores are threatened by powerful winds and strong waters. Some of the strongest hurricanes in history have absolutely devastated thousands of residents. While meteorologists do their best to predict such storms and emergency officials try to encourage prompt evacuation, you can only do so much to prevent loss of life, property damage, and other tragedies when a natural disaster strikes. Despite the best efforts of all involved, a storm is simply too unpredictable to manage effectively. The world's biggest hurricanes - those in the highest hurricane categories - will remind you to be thankful for your shelter and loved ones, as our planet is, at times, tremendously dangerous and unexpected weather patterns can suddenly disrupt stability. 

What is the largest hurricane ever recorded? The Great Hurricane of 1780 resulted in over 20,000 lives lost. However, less deadly hurricanes have wrought unspeakable damage to infrastructure, leading to massive displacement, job loss, and economic upheaval. The destruction wrought by the world's most destructive hurricanes is always devastating, but you often see communities come together in the aftermath to rebuild. While always tragic, these types of natural disasters can be a testament to the enduring willpower of people across the globe. So, what's the worst hurricane in history?

To get some sense of the proportion of the damage caused by these storms, here's a look back at the strongest hurricanes ever recorded - ranging from the 1700s to recent history. 

If you're interested in more natural disasters like this list of the worst hurricanes, check out the worst tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and earthquakes in history. 

  • The Great Hurricane (1780)

    The Great Hurricane (1780)
    Photo: Shutterstock

    Death Toll: Over 20,000 

    Category: Undetermined 

    Areas Affected: The Caribbean, Barbados  

    Due to the fact that it took place before modern storm-tracking technology came about, not much is known about the Great Hurricane of 1780. Its exact category and point of origin remain unknown, but it touched down in the Caribbean on October 1780. The hurricane likely struck Barbados on October 10 before making its way across the Caribbean, causing widespread destruction and property damage.

    In addition to taking the lives of thousands of Caribbean residents, British and French ships navigating the coast of the Caribbean were lost in the storm. 

  • Hurricane Mitch (1998)

    Hurricane Mitch (1998)
    Photo: Shutterstock

    Death Toll: Over 19,325

    Category: 5

    Areas Affected: Honduras, Swan Islands, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua 

    Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical storm but developed into a hurricane by October 24, 1998. The storm struck down in both the Swan Islands and Honduras. The hurricane proceeded to move through Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, causing over 19,000 deaths and an incredible amount of damage. 

    The bulk of the damage occurred in Nicaragua and Honduras, where heavy rainfall caused flash floods and landslides. Over 20% of the population of Honduras ended up homeless due to heavy rains. Infrastructural damage was so severe, existing road maps in the country became essentially useless. In Nicaragua, over 23,900 homes were destroyed, as well as hundreds of schools and bridges. 

  • Galveston Hurricane (1900)

    Galveston Hurricane (1900)
    Photo: Everett Historical /

    Death Toll: 6,000 to 12,000

    Category: 4

    Areas Affected: Gulf of Mexico, Cuba, United States (Texas)

    On September 4, US Weather Bureau officials received a warning saying a large tropical storm had just passed Cuba and was headed west across the Gulf of Mexico. Officials underestimated the storm's power for several reasons. First, the Weather Bureau inaccurately predicted the storm would pass along Florida and then head to New England. The bureau director refused to accept information from Cuba for political reasons, which contributed to the misinformation and ultimately erroneous predictions regarding the hurricane's course. No one realized it was heading to Galveston, TX, until it was too late to issue an adequate warning. 

    When the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 made landfall on September 8, it brought a 15-foot-tall storm surge that flooded the entire city. The Galveston Hurricane is the deadliest natural disaster to ever hit the US. While the death toll remains debated, estimates fall between 6,000 and 12,000 people. The storm went down in history as a lesson that political squabbles - such as the one with Cuba - should be set aside in the interest of public safety. 

  • Hurricane Fifi (1974)

    Death Toll: Between 8,000 and 10,000

    Category: 2

    Areas Affected: Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico

    Hurricane Fifi was a catastrophic tropical cyclone that struck Honduras in September 1974. 

    The bulk of the damage occurred in Honduras, where heavy rainfall caused flash floods and mudslides, though nearby Guatemala also suffered from flooding. Due to the extreme damage and loss of life, the name was retired from the list of Atlantic hurricane names and has not been used since. To prevent the spreading of disease, the burning of bodies was allowed and nearly 6,000 were burned in a single day

  • Hurricane Flora (1963)

    Hurricane Flora (1963)
    Photo: Shutterstock

    Death Toll: 7,186 - 8,000

    Category: 4

    Areas Affected: Caribbean, Haiti, Cuba

    Hurricane Flora was first identified as a convection - a mild transfer of heat via fluid movement - in September 1963. It eventually morphed into a tropical storm and then into a Category 4 hurricane. Flora ravaged the Caribbean, Haiti, and Cuba throughout September and October as it touched down on land, causing over 7,000 deaths during its 17-day run. 

    In addition to causing a sizable death toll, Flora caused major damage to crops and infrastructure. Landslides buried entire towns in Haiti and flooding took out fields of coffee and banana crops. Flooding also caused great damage to crops in Cuba and destroyed much of the country's transportation infrastructure.  

  • Pointe-à-Pitre Bay Hurricane (1776)

    Pointe-à-Pitre Bay Hurricane (1776)
    Photo: Shutterstock

    Death Toll: Over 6,000

    Category: Unspecified 

    Areas Affected: Guadeloupe, United States (Louisiana) 

    Due to poor record-keeping, some precise details of this hurricane are unknown. However, historians do know the hurricane struck Guadeloupe on September 6, 1776, and hit Louisiana on September 12. Analysis indicates the winds were around 74 miles per hour.

    At least 6,000 people lost their lives in the storm, and it also struck down about 60% of a large convoy of French and Dutch merchant ships transporting goods to Europe.