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Top Ten Most Damaging U.S. Hurricanes

Surprisingly, Hurricane Katrina is not the most damaging storm on record

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Post-Katrina Damage. Photo: Loco Steve

What were the worst U.S. hurricanes ever? StoryMaps rounded up a top ten list that NOAA produced, which takes into account damage cost, deaths and the potential damage these historic storms would wreck were they to strike today. Here are the results, from least to worst damaging. (Spoiler alert: Hurricane Katrina isn’t ranked number one.)

10) Hurricane Camille

The sleepy Mississippi Gulf Coast got pummeled by this Category 5 storm back in 1969. At the time, total damage only topped around $1.4 billion, but if the same storm struck today residents would face around $21.1 billion. One good thing did come of this storm, however. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale was implemented after residents complained that the hurricane warning system left them ill-prepared for the ensuing damage.

9) Hurricane Donna

In 1960, this storm tore through the Florida Keys, producing storm surges of up to 13 feet. Notably, Donna holds the record for sustaining hurricane status for 17 days.

8) Lake Okeechobee Hurricane

This 1928 storm cost over 4,078 lives—2,500 in South Florida alone—making it the second most deadly hurricane in U.S. history. Why was this storm so deadly? StoryMaps explains:

The greatest loss of life was around Lake Okeechobee. Winds pushed the lake’s water onto the lake’s southern shore, causing a hastily-built dike to fail. Water rushed onto farmland, drowning thousands of people, most of them non-white migrant farm workers. Many of the victims’ bodies were washed into the everglades and never found.

7) Cuba-Florida Hurricane

This 1944 storm occurred when World War II was in full swing. Luckily, the proliferation of U.S. Coast Guard, Navy and Army personnel led to an orderly and efficient evacuation effort, which likely minimized the death toll. Around 300 people in northern Cuba, however, lost their lives in the storm. Most of Havana harbor was littered with wrecked and sunken ships.

6) The Great New England Hurricane

This 1938 storm swept through Long Island and Connecticut without warning at an extremely high tide, which caused 12-25 foot storm surges throughout southern New England. Due in part to its sudden onslaught, 600 to 800 causalities and around $300 million (or $39 billion today) in damages resulted.

Though officially classified as only a Category 2, some experts argue that the Great New England Hurricane was actually a Category 3 when it made landfall.

5) Hurricane Andrew

When Hurricane Andrew struck Dale County in Florida as a Category 5 storm in 1992, it ranked as the costliest storm on record, causing $26.5 billion in damage. Hurricanes Katrina and Ike have since topped that figure, however.

4) 1915 Galveston Hurricane

This storm arrived just 15 years after a 1900 hurricane that devastated the Galveston, Texas, region and killed at least 8,000 people. The city responded by building a seawall, which protected Galveston from this storm’s 21-foot waves.

3) 1900 Galveston Hurricane

This hurricane is known as the greatest natural disaster ever to strike the United States. It caused at least 8,000 deaths, though some reports position that figure at closer to 12,000. It also destroyed 3,600 buildings and caused damage exceeding $20 million.

2) Hurricane Katrina

Katrina was initially labeled as the most destructive hurricane when it hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Louisiana in 2005, but normalizing it to other major hurricanes based on current conditions revealed that the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, in fact, would have produced a damage level nearly double that of Katrina if it hit today.

1) The Great Miami Hurricane

The Great Miami Hurricane virtually destroyed its namesake city when it struck as a Category 4 in 1926. It caused $105 million in damages at the time, but if an identical storm hit the same region today, costs would exceed $178 billion, more than double that of Katrina.

More from Smithsonian.com:

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