On September 10th of 1988, during that year's Atlantic hurricane season, a storm attained hurricane status west of the Dominican Republic. Barometer readings plummeted as Hurricane Gilbert gained strength. The pressure on the barometer was the lowest ever recorded in the western hemisphere.
Several precautions were taken to protect citizens from the impending storm. Hurricane watches were issued for the Cayman Islands, the southern coast of Cuba, and other danger zones. Some of these hurricane watches were soon upgraded to hurricane warnings. Meanwhile, Texas governor Bill Clements temporarily lifted certain laws such as lane reversals and speed limits, in the name of public safety. Cayman Airways started evacuating residents from the Cayman Islands.
Two days later, this deadly tropical cyclone crashed into the coast of Jamaica, killing at least two hundred people. The eye of the hurricane was 40 miles wide, enough to cover the entire island of Jamaica. It brought more than 32 inches of rain to the island, and 49 people died from the flooding alone. No planes were leaving Kingston airport, and all incoming flights were cancelled at Miami International Airport. After the passing of the storm, Jamaica was in ruins, with four out of five homes destroyed and no phone service from Jamaica all the way to Miami. Also, Jamaica's entire poultry industry was completely wiped out.
Gilbert also touched the Cayman Islands, where wind speeds of 156 miles per hour were recorded. Then the storm continued on its deadly course, killing people in Mexico and causing tornadoes in Texas. At one point, wind speeds reached 185 miles per hour. For nearly nine days, Hurricane Gilbert raged on, finally dissipating on September 19th somewhere in the Midwest. At the time, Gilbert was the most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. In 2005, Hurricane Wilma took the distinction, but Gilbert was still in second place.
Homes on the island of Jamaica had tin roofs, which were blown off by Hurricane Gilbert. Four out of five homes in Jamaica were severely damaged by the storm. Roughly half a million of the country's 2 million people were rendered homeless. Every home on the island lost its electricity.
But Gilbert wasn't finished wreaking havoc just yet. The storm hit the resort town of Cancun, which lost half of its hotels. Nearby Cozumel was also hit. Thirty thousand people in that region lost their homes. Then Gilbert moved on, eventually leaving about two hundred thousand Mexican people homeless.
The storm also picked up a 300-foot Cuban freighter and tossed it onto a shrimp fishing boat, killing 28 people. More people died when the hurricane moved to the northeastern coast of Mexico. The police evacuated the area, but sent people by way of the Santa Cantina River. Four buses and several cars were unprepared, and 200 people were washed away and drowned. After all that, a rash of tornadoes riding on the tail of Gilbert killed three people in Texas.
In total, Hurricane Gilbert caused 318 fatalities, and 7.1 billion dollars’ worth of property damage.