Storms: 1900 - 1999
August 1903: Mr. J. H. O'Sullivan provided the following account, as reported by Commissioner Hirst. Although the storm was of short duration, the results were tragic. "The wind commenced to blow more than usual between four and five o'clock in the afternoon of 11 August. From about 12 midday it was looking black and rained a good deal, but the weather was good up to this time and nobody suspected what we were in for. About six o'clock the sea got up, but nothing in proportion to the wind. The heaviest part of the blow was about 10 pm and by twelve midnight was practically over."
Mr. O'Sullivan named the eight vessels in harbour that day and recorded what happened to some of them. All had put out to sea, except for one which broke her moorings and drifted out. Two ships returned after the storm, but the others were lost with 14 to 16 men aboard (accounts vary). Many houses were destroyed, the greatest destruction being in the north part of the island. There was no loss of life on land.
1909 August: Commissioner Hirst wrote his own eyewitness account after observing a hurricane on 24 August while he was at Boddentown. The weather previous to this date had been very hot with little or no wind and the sea was as calm as glass, he reported. Early on the 24th the wind began to come in small puffs from the North accompanied by a little rain. Later in the morning, squalls from the North came in more rapid succession and increased in violence as the day wore on. By 5:30pm the wind was in the South West and blowing with considerable violence. The sea began to rise and everyone thought it time to haul up the boats and see to the security of their dwellings. The wind and sea increased until about 10pm when the storm was at its height and continued so until after midnight when the wind gradually abated and by daylight on the 25th little of it was left.
The sea, however, ran very high and the spray from the reef made it difficult to see any distance. About 7am a vessel was sighted on the reef near Cottage and all available hands turned out to help. It was the schooner Blomidon, owned in Nova Scotia and heading for Puerto Rico with lumber. Her captain, Thomas Borden, and some of the crew were Caymanians. The men were saved with great difficulty but the ship became a total wreck. The Cayman Brac schooner Bertha was lost at sea with all hands on a voyage from New York to Cayman Brac.
In the 24 hours from 8am, 24 August, recorded rainfall was 6 inches in Georgetown; 6.25 inches in Boddentown; 12.32 inches in East End. Trees were blown across the roads and many roads were under three feet of water. Many of the trees, however, were hauled back into position and, taking root afresh, bore the following year.
1910 October: Another eyewitness account from Commissioner Hirst. On the 12th and 13th of October, the dependency was again visited by a hurricane. For a few days before there were ominous warnings and preparations were made with a view to preventing as much damage as possible. The schooner Express owned by James Webster of Georgetown was in harbour and rode through the storm without injury. At 9 pm a Norwegian barque, the Pallas, was driven on the reef at South Sound and became a total wreck. The captain and crew were saved the next morning.
In this storm the wind did much less damage than the sea. Roads on the waterfront in Georgetown were washed away and tons of rocks, sponges, seafans, fish and other refuse were deposited. At West Bay, the roof of the school building was carried away and the pier totally demolished. The materials forming the pier were fortunately washed ashore. At Red Bay and Spotts the roads were washed away and at the latter place the sea encroached 53 yards on the land, bringing up an abundance of rocks and boulders which it deposited in the form of a breakwater. In fact, the breakwater saved the houses of the Messrs. Crighton. The sea rose an estimated 15 feet in East End. Little damage was done in the Lesser Islands, but two Cayman Brac vessels were lost with all hands -- the W K Merrit and William Bloomfield.
1914 August, September: Another storm that is difficult to pinpoint due to conflicting references.
1915 August, September: According to the Annual Colonial Report for 1915: On Friday, the 13th of August, 1915, a hurricane of unprecedented severity devastated the Island of Cayman Brac within the period of one hour, rendering the inhabitants homeless and in many cases destitute. Fortunately the death of only one child was reported. Of 260 houses, only one remained intact, while 75 per cent were totally destroyed. All provision ground was destroyed. Damage to coconut trees was put at #20,000, taking the annual average yield of a tree at one pound.
At 7pm on Saturday 25 September, strong winds sprang up on Grand Cayman which blew uninterruptedly with spasmodic gusts of great and increasing intensity until 6 the following Monday morning. The sea swept to a distance inland never experienced within the memory of the oldest living inhabitants, since the year 1846.
1917 September: According to the Annual Colonial Report for 1917: "Hurricanes would appear to have become an almost annual event in the Cayman Islands. On Monday, 24th September, Grand Cayman was struck by a severe hurricane, the third visitation within four years in these Islands." The wind blew with great force and intensity from 9am until 9pm. The most serious feature of the storm was the complete destruction of all provision grounds. Two lives were lost, 100 houses demolished. Fourteen vessels ran ashore; however, all but one were refloated.
1932 November: All the hurricanes in this list so far have hit during August-October. But there is no doubt that the worst, prior to Ivan in 2004, ever to strike the Cayman Islands arrived on 7 November 1932, after the "hurricane season" was generally thought to be over. Commissioner E. A. Weston made his report to the Vestrymen of the Assembly on 30 November. "On the 8th and 9th of November, these islands were visited by a hurricane of a severity unprecedented in their history. The hurricane took a terrible toll of human life, whilst the widespread destruction of property and the devastation of the land have brought suffering and want to our people which cannot be lifted for many a long day. The number of dead is not yet known. One life was lost in Grand Cayman, but on Cayman Brac, whilst exact figures are not yet forthcoming, sixty-eight are known to have perished. But that is not the full tale. Many of our vessels, manned by Caymanian crews, met the hurricane at sea and as the days pass without news, fear grows that many more lives have been lost." [The 1933 Cayman Islands report puts the total at 109, including men at sea.]
Losses in Grand Cayman included about 60 houses entirely demolished or seriously damaged; 250 people lost practically all their possessions and were rendered homeless. The section of the road between Prospect and Spotts could not be reclaimed and had to be rebuilt further inland. Mr. Weston recommended the road between Red Bay and Boddentown be further inland. In Cayman Brac, he said, along with the heavy toll of life there were injuries -- abrasions, cuts and sprains to the feet and legs, incurred when fleeing for safety through the debris. Such injuries, under the circumstances, were particularly disabling. All stores and private supplies of food were wiped out of existence on the Brac; everyone must draw from Government supplies, the Commissioner reported. "But there are families able and anxious to pay..." To help communications and distribution of supplies, Mr. Weston ordered the cutting of a four-foot bridle path "along the length of the island, immediately under the Bluff."
On both islands, schools were destroyed but children soon attended classes held outdoors. In Little Cayman, all inhabitants were sheltering in the six houses that had remained standing after the storm. In conjunction with the Memory Bank at the Cayman Islands National Archive, The '32 Storm has been published to preserve personal anecdotes of people who lived through the event and the long recovery afterwards.
1933 July: The sea breached at Prospect. Commissioner Weston reported that the area had been almost entirely destroyed in November 1932 "so that comparatively little more damage was possible."
1935 September: Houses destroyed on Cayman Brac.
1944 October: The 1946 Colonial Report called this hurricane "the worst in living memory" but gave no details. For about four days there were torrential rains while the wind increased to hurricane force and rough seas lashed the coast, according to Lee A. Ebanks' autobiography Lest It Be Lost. As Inspector of Police, he was also Foreman of Public Works and Tide-waiter. After the hurricane, "Part of the West Bay Road was buried in sand several feet deep and I recommended that this part be declared closed and a detour made inland." His recommendation was followed. Red Bay and Prospect were also flooded.
1975 September: The "eye" of hurricane Eloise passed over Cayman Brac, but little damage was sustained.
1980 August: Hurricane Allen pounded Cayman Brac and Little Cayman with winds of 135 miles per hour on Wednesday, 6 August. On the Brac, some 450 people took shelter in the Aston Rutty Civic Centre, while others sought refuge in the caves. There were no casualties, but 17 houses were damaged and 70% of the utility poles were down. Several government buildings and hotels were damaged. In Grand Cayman 1,300 people -- mostly tourists -- were airlifted to Miami. Shelters were opened but residents soon left because the storm veered away.
1981 November: Hurricane Katrina flirted with all three islands, but caused the most damage in Cayman Brac.
1988 September: Hurricane Gilbert arrived in the early hours of Tuesday, 13 September. Many people, especially in the Brac, began boarding up from Sunday. Stores opened Monday to allow people to purchase supplies. Shelters opened Monday afternoon and over 1,600 people moved in.
There was no loss of life, no serious injuries, but very severe damage to crops, pastures, and trees. A number of private homes, their owners away, were virtually destroyed. Some coastal commercial properties were damaged. Later Superintendent of Insurance Gilbert Connolly reported that damage caused by Hurricane Gilbert was expected to result in an estimated CI$16.5 million in claims.
In the North American press, Cayman's post-storm condition was lumped with the rest of the Caribbean, resulting in a dramatic downturn in tourist arrivals. Governor Allan Scott summed up his report saying, "We have had by the Grace of God, a fortunate escape. We played our own part by way of planning and common sense. We shall fairly soon be back to normal." He noted that thanks had been duly offered at churches throughout the Islands but suggested a co-ordinated Service of Thanksgiving. For that service, held on 2 October, Elmslie Memorial Church was filled to overflowing.