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10 October 2011

On this day in history: The Great Hurricane, 1780

On 10th October 1780, the deadliest recorded Atlantic hurricane reached the island of Barbados, pounding the island with two-hundred mile per hour winds. Over the next week it left a swathe of destruction on the Windward Isles, the Leeward Isles, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola before turning north-east and heading back into the Atlantic. The direct effects of the hurricane killed an estimated twenty-two thousand people: 9,000 in Martinique; 4,500 in Barbados; and, 4,500 in St. Eustatius.

The British naval officer Lord Rodney wrote to his wife describing the destruction 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.

Rodney was commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands, commanding the British fleet in naval engagements against the French and Spanish as part of the American War of Independence. The hurricane destroyed eight of his twelve ships while they were moored off the island of St. Lucia, killing hundreds of sailors. One of these ships destroyed the hospital at Port Castries when the weather hurled the ship on top of it.

The French suffered even greater losses. A fleet of forty ships transporting men to fight in the war sank with the loss of around 4,000 lives. The hurricane also destroyed nineteen Dutch ships at Grenada.

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