When Gilbert devastated Jamaica 29 years ago

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

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Today marks the 29th anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert's devastation of Jamaica.

Packing winds of 130 miles per hour, Category Four Gilbert made landfall on Jamaica's eastern tip at approximately 9:00 am. The monster storm swept the entire island, taking 45 lives. It also destroyed hundreds of homes and infrastructure, downed trees and electricity poles, and wiped out crops and livestock.

Extensive flooding was also reported across the island as Gilbert produced storm surges up to 19 feet high and dumped more than 32 inches of rain on the country.

The damage was so devastating that then Prime Minister Edward Seaga, after an aerial tour of the island, said that the country looked like Hiroshima after the atom bomb was dropped on that Japanese city in World War II.

Total damage was estimated at US$4 billion.

Communities remained without electricity and water for months as the island slowly recovered from the hurricane described as the most destructive in Jamaica's history.

According to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, the high number of people who sought shelter before and following Gilbert's rampage provided an indicator of the storm's impact on private dwellings.

The office reported that 655 people were still in shelters in early January 1989, and of those, just over 63 per cent were in need of permanent housing.

After its rampage across Jamaica, Gilbert strengthened on September 13 and slammed Grand Cayman before gaining category 5 strength to pulverise the north-east coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on September 14.

It eventually weakened to category 2 before unleashing its fury on the western Gulf of Mexico.

Because of its devastating impact, the name Gilbert was later retired from the list of hurricanes released each year by the National Hurricane Center.

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