10 Most Destructive Storms


Hurricane Mitch

Hurricane Mitch
Two local residents pass nearby a destroyed house in Tegucigalpa, Honduras after Hurricane Mitch hit the country in 1998. JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images

If we measure the costs of storms in lives, property and the difficulty of recovery, then Hurricane Mitch is, across the board, one of the worst hurricanes ever to strike land.

On Oct. 26, 1998, within a few short days of its Caribbean birth, Mitch slammed into the northeast coast of Honduras as a Category 5. Not long afterward, it weakened and stalled on the coast, where it transformed into a sprawling engine of rain production. During this time, the storm achieved peak winds of 180 mph (290 kph) and deluged much of Central America, causing flash floods, avalanches and mudslides that destroyed coastal regions, particularly in Honduras. After ramping up once again to tropical storm levels, it struck Florida on Nov. 5, then died out over the Atlantic [sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica; Rohter].

Mitch's floods, mudslides and winds wrecked crops and wiped out population centers throughout Honduras and areas of Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. It demolished hundreds of thousands of homes, blew and washed away residents, and obliterated harvests. More than 11,000 people lost their lives, most of them in Honduras and Nicaragua, and thousands more went missing [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica].

In Honduras, Mitch left a country with no clear path to recovery. With infrastructure destroyed and unemployment on the rise following the destruction of vital plantations, one of the poorest and most debt-laden nations on Earth was faced with locating $1.7 billion to get it back on its feet [source: Morgan].

Now let's go a little further back in time, when another large cyclone wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, amid an international power struggle known to Americans as the Revolutionary War.