From September 21-30, 1998, Hurricane Georges left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean region and across the southern U.S. Gulf coast. Estimates indicate more than 600 people were killed (or still missing) as the storm pushed its way across the islands of the Caribbean. The Caribbean islands where preliminary death totals are reported so far include Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas. In the U.S. mainland, there were four Georges-related fatalities. An elderly woman died from heat stress while being evacuated from New Orleans. Two more people died in Florida and Louisiana in fires started by candles during power outages, and another person died as a result of an auto accident on a slick highway near Crestview, Florida. Puerto Rico reported 12 fatalities.
Damage estimates for the U.S. including Puerto Rico are now $5.9 billion. Extreme flooding was reported with rainfall amounts in excess of 20 to possibly 30 inches along portions of the southern U.S. Gulf coast. Mobile, Alabama received 13.0 inches of rain from the storm, which boosted the monthly total to 23.0 inches, breaking the September record of 16 inches set 100 years ago. The highest individual storm total reported thus far is Munson, Florida, which reported 25.0 inches of rain from Georges.
Following are reports from individual states and countries as provided by the Southeast Regional Climate Center and other sources:
Alabama: Gusts to 85 mph reported. 25-foot waves on immediate coast. 177,000 customers without power. No deaths or major injuries. Severe flooding in southern Alabama, with many homes and businesses flooded. Downtown Mobile flooded in many areas.
Florida: 18-30 inches of rain in portions of Panhandle, with NEXRAD estimates exceeding 35 inches for one small area near the AL state line. Mandatory evacuations total about 225,000. Severe flooding, high winds, and isolated tornadoes caused extensive damage. Nearly 700,000 without power at some point during storm. Approximately 200 residents in the Florida panhandle were rescued by the Coast Guard Sunday night. A portion of Interstate 10 near the Alabama border was destroyed or washed over. One death reported statewide.
On the Florida Keys, 90 mph winds were reported for >10 hours during storm passage; heavy structural damage from the storm, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. More than 900 homes suffered minor damage, 500 major damage, and more than 150 homes were completely destroyed, including 75 houseboats on so-called “Houseboat Row.” All Key West residents were without power, and residents are under a “boil water” order. Utility restoration expected to take 7-10 days. Big Pine Key and Kudjoe Key were hardest hit, including severe storm surge damage. Since the highest elevation in the Keys is 14 feet, high water quickly swept into homes and businesses.
Puerto Rico: A major disaster. Damages estimated to exceed $2 billion. Three direct deaths; nine others from medical complications (heart attacks, etc.). Power and water out to 80% of the 3.8 million people on island. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates 33,113 homes destroyed in Puerto Rico, with nearly 50,000 more suffering major or minor damage. The storm destroyed 75 percent of the coffee crop, 95 percent of Puerto Rico’s plantains, and 65 percent of its chickens.
US Virgin Islands: No deaths and little major damage was reported. Only about 20 homes were destroyed and another 50 damaged. Adherence to building codes likely prevented further damage. Most structures on the three islands had been rebuilt to FEMA standards after hits by Hugo (1989) and Marilyn (1995). Damage reported is almost solely restricted to agriculture (coconuts & mangoes) and livestock losses.