The hurricane of 1893

April 21, 2013 

On Aug. 27, 1893, a major hurricane that came to be known as the Sea Islands Hurricane struck near Beaufort. It was one of two deadly hurricanes during the 1893 Atlantic hurricane season; the storm killed an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 people, mostly from storm surge.

Meteorological history

Modern analysis of historical records has allowed the history of this storm to be pieced together, although the analysis is only estimations since few accurate meteorological records were taken.

On Aug. 15, a tropical storm formed east of the Cape Verde Islands. It likely passed directly though the islands on the Aug. 16, leaving their vicinity the next evening. It become a hurricane Aug. 19, while crossing the Atlantic between the Cape Verde Islands and the Lesser Antilles. The hurricane continued to strengthen, attaining Category 3 status on Aug. 22, while located northeast of the Lesser Antilles. By the evening of Aug. 25, the storm was approaching the Bahamas. During the approach, it began to deviate from its westerly course and arc west-northwest. It is believed that the first effects of the storm were beginning to be felt in the Sea Islands area, with the winds steadily increasing during the night of Aug. 25.

Some of the inhabitants anticipated the storm and left the islands as quickly as possible. But this was before the time of modern storm warning systems, and many remained in the area as the storm approached. The conditions rapidly deteriorated on the island and the hurricane passed over sometime on Aug. 26. By that time, the hurricane was turning northward, and it moved parallel to the coast for about one hundred miles before making landfall near Savannah on Aug. 27.

Reports from the time say that wind during landfall was about 120 mph. Pressure in Savannah was measured at 960 bars, and modern estimates put the pressure around 954 mbar at landfall and possibly as low as 931 mbar out at sea, which would have most likely made the hurricane a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. The hurricane passed north over the rest of South Carolina on Aug. 28 and moved up the c before becoming extratropical over Atlantic Canada.


The hurricane carried with it a heavy storm surge, according to Clara Barton of the Red Cross, causing great destruction along the coastline and offshore. An estimated 1,000 to 2,000 people were killed, most by drowning, putting it on-par with 2005's Hurricane Katrina as the fourth-deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. This estimate is conservative, though, considering the large populations of poor rural African-Americans in the area who had little means of reporting casualties. Thirty-thousand or more were left homeless as nearly every building along the barrier islands was damaged beyond repair.

The city of Beaufort was reduced to rubble, and much of Lady's Island was under water. Thousands were evacuated from the Sea Islands to the mainland by boat. Although the hurricane had been devastating, the American Red Cross did not arrive until Oct. 1, possibly because of ongoing efforts because of another hurricane that had hit South Carolina in June. After the Red Cross arrived, a warehouse of clothing and food was started in Beaufort to provide services to the affected. Nearly 20,000 refugees were said to have migrated to Beaufort searching for food, shelter and clothing. All “storehouses” were ordered to close, and distributions were made under a “ration” system through strategically placed distribution centers. [2] Eventually, the areas submerged by the Sea Islands Hurricane were drained. To assist this effort, three hundred miles of ditches were dug.

Relief efforts were impeded by a second Category 3 hurricane that struck just north of the area, near Charleston, on Oct. 13. During a massive 10-month relief campaign, success was declared, with the Sea Islands population living in decent houses producing their own food again. Damages from the storm totaled at least $1 million in 1893 dollars, according to the Encyclopedia of Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones.

The storm also sent Beaufort's economy into a tailspin. The phosphate industry that had thrived since about the 1870s was practically wiped out between the loss of expensive equipment ruined by the storm and a tax on phosphate rock imposed by Gov. Ben Tillman. Rice cultivation ceased, too, as the fields filled with saltwater.

Sources: Some information provided by Wikipedia.

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