(RNN) – Hurricane Florence is making its approach to the Carolinas, where it’s expected to deluge the coastal areas with rain and storm surge.
A slow-moving storm, it is expected to sit over the coasts and pound those areas for an extended period, similar to how Harvey flooded the Houston area last year.
Florence has “devastating flood potential,” the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini, said on CNN on Wednesday.
Luckily, while it’s certainly a dangerous storm for anyone who chooses not to evacuate, advanced warnings and proper preparation can greatly limit loss of life.
However with widespread development in communities like Wilmington, NC, and Myrtle Beach, SC, in the decades since the last big storm – especially along the waterfront - property damage should be significant.
Those factors are why many of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history – with a couple notable exceptions – date back many years, when warning systems weren’t as good and when infrastructure wasn’t as well-built to protect people. And all of the costliest have come in more recent years, when there was simply more stuff to damage.
With that in mind, here are some of the most significant hurricanes in American history (in no particular order):
Note: Hurricanes were not given people names until the early 1950s. Before then, they are typically referred to where they made the most significant impact.
- Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana/Mississippi, 2005, 1,200-1,800 deaths, $125 billion in damage: Katrina only made landfall as a Category 3 storm, but infamously overwhelmed New Orleans’ levee system, causing unprecedented flooding in densely-populated urban areas where many poor and otherwise vulnerable people were effectively stuck. The relief response was also criticized for lacking urgency and organization as the hurricane became the costliest and, at the time, third-deadliest in U.S. history.
- Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico, 2017, 2,975 deaths, $90 billion in damage: Maria battered Puerto Rico last year, crippling the island’s infrastructure and stranding scores of people without supplies. But it wasn’t the direct hit that caused the most devastation. An ineffective disaster response exacerbated what was a difficult situation in which to deliver and distribute critical supplies in the days after Maria hit, and the island’s loss of power hampered medical services. The true death toll also wasn’t acknowledged until studies revealed its full extent, and in the end the hurricane surpassed Katrina as the third-deadliest to hit the U.S.
- Galveston Hurricane, Texas, 1900, 8,000 deaths, $21 million in damage: A huge 15-foot storm surge submerged the entire island, destroying buildings and trapping scores of people. Word was slow to spread of the destruction and when rescuers arrived, they didn’t have the kind of machinery available nowadays to deal with debris. Between drownings, deaths from building destruction and deaths of trapped people in the days that followed, almost 20 percent of the city of Galveston perished, making it still the deadliest hurricane ever in the U.S.
- Hurricane Harvey, Texas, 2017, 89 deaths, $125 billion in damage: Effective warning and evacuation efforts got most people out of Harvey’s path, but the storm drifted over the Houston area and sat there, dumping rain on the city and surrounding areas for two days. The resulting flooding caused major damage to the densely-built metro area.
- Lake Okeechobee Hurricane, Florida, 1928, 2,500 deaths, $100 million in damage: Warnings came well in advance of the storm, and deaths were limited along the coasts in South Florida. But the storm moved inland, filling Lake Okeechobee and collapsing its dikes, releasing floodwaters and drowning thousands in the surrounding communities.
- Hurricane Sandy, New York/New Jersey, 2012, 147 deaths, $65 billion in damage: Sandy only hit the northeast as a Category 1 storm, but it caused a huge storm surge that inundated coastal New Jersey and lower Manhattan, waterlogging some of the country’s priciest real estate. For a time it was the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, and is now the fourth.
- Cheniere Caminada Hurricane, Louisiana, 1893, 1,100-1,400 deaths, $5 million in damage: The community of Cheniere Caminada was situated on an island next to Grand Isle, about 65 miles southwest of New Orleans, at one of the southernmost tips of Louisiana. This hurricane left it in ruins, and killed more than half of the town’s adults and nearly all its children in what is still the fifth-deadliest hurricane ever to hit the U.S.
- Sea Islands Hurricane, South Carolina/Georgia, 1893, 1,000-2,000 deaths, $1 million in damage: Similar to the Cheniere Caminada Hurricane that struck farther south the same year, wrecking communities out to shore on South Carolina’s Sea Islands, particularly St. Helena Island, and drowning inhabitants in floodwaters, overwhelmingly black people who were ex-slaves or the descendants of slaves and had settled there after the Civil War.
- Hurricane Irma, Florida, 2017, 129 deaths, $50 billion in damage: Irma devastated much of the Caribbean, and was still a massive storm as it approached Florida. It traveled up the western coast of the state, leaving destruction in its path. It’s the fifth costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
- Labor Day Hurricane, Florida, 1935, 408 deaths, $6 million in damage: While this storm was not the deadliest or costliest, it struck the Florida Keys as a Category 5 and the strongest to hit the U.S. on record. Its central pressure of 892 milibars is a record low.