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The Hurricane Gilbert Disaster

Updated on July 15, 2013
A palm tree being blown to its side in a hurricane
A palm tree being blown to its side in a hurricane

In September of 1988, the strongest hurricane of the 20th century ripped through the Gulf of Mexico causing terrible damage to Jamaica, Mexico and the United States. Hurricane Gilbert has faded into forgotten history as more devastation has occurred due to other natural disaster in recent years. The impact that the hurricane made on the lives of those that lived through the storm is equally as significant.

Storm Development

The tropical wave that would turn into Hurricane Gilbert was first spotted on radar on September 3rd, 1988. It ran through the African Coast line causing little more than an area of low pressure. The tropical wave began to move towards the Americas quite quickly, building pressure as it did. The entire system didn't look as though it would form a hurricane until satellite images began to show a circulation forming just north of the equator on September 8th. This is when the the system upgraded to a tropical storm and attention started to focus on it.

The storm built pressure and size extremely fast. By September 10th, it was a hurricane that had strengthened to a level 3 with sustained winds at 125 miles per hour. On September 12th, it hit Jamaica. The eye of the storm stretched a record breaking 15 miles and ran along the entire length of the island.

Destruction from a hurricane
Destruction from a hurricane

Within 24 hours, Hurricane Gilbert has sustained winds of 185 miles per hour. On September 14th, Hurricane Gilbert had upgraded to a level 5 hurricane, while destroying the Yucatan Peninsula, with barometric pressure of 888 mbar. This pressure was the absolute lowest ever seen in the Western Hemisphere. Hurricane Gilbert was the most intense Atlantic Hurricane on record. On September 17th, the hurricane took an abrupt turn towards the north and began its descent on the United States. On September 18th, 29 tornadoes developed in the state of Texas as the storm moved inland. By September 19th, the storm was finally absorbed in an area of low pressure between Oklahoma and Missouri.

Homes destroyed by a hurricane
Homes destroyed by a hurricane


Hurricane Gilbert stole 433 lives and caused well over 7 billion dollars worth of damage. While it was still categorized as a tropical storm, Gilbert caused high winds, heavy rains, mudslides and flooding throughout the Caribbean islands. Power outages were widespread throughout Jamaica, Mexico and the islands around them. Many part of the US Virgin Islands were out of power for nearly a week.

A home destroyed by a hurricane
A home destroyed by a hurricane

In Venezuela and Puerto Rico, landslides left hundreds of people homeless. In Haiti, 53 lives were taken due to rising waters. The port of Jacmel was completely wiped out by 10 foot tall waves. The Haiti government declared a state of emergency, with damages being reported up around 91 million dollars. A 19 foot storm surge caused extreme flooding in Jamaica, took 49 lives and created 4 billions dollars worth of damage. In Kingston, 100,000 houses were destroyed or damaged. 6,000 families were left homeless in Honduras and 8 people died.

At the time, Hurricane Gilbert was the most destructive hurricane on record. Many people lost their lives and were left homeless. The impact of this storm can still be seen in many areas 24 years after the fact. Even though it has been forgotten in recent years, Hurricane Gilbert will still remain in the memories of those that lived through it.

Have you ever heard of Hurricane Gilbert before this article?

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Lenworth, Henry. Gilbert the Mighty Hurricane: A Jamaican Experience. United States: iUniverse, 2010. Print.

Hurricane Season 1988 TV Coverage! Part-1 Gilbert ! [Video file]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Hurricanes: Science and Society: 1988- Hurricane Gilbert. (n.d.). Retrieved from


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