On this day in 1960, the storm that would become Hurricane Donna forms near Cape Verde off the African coast. It would go on to cause 150 deaths from Puerto Rico to New England over the next two weeks.
On August 31, Donna attained hurricane status and headed west toward the Caribbean Sea. It was a Category 4 hurricane by the time it reached the Leeward Islands on September 4. Donna wrecked havoc on Puerto Rico and a portion of the Bahamas before turning northeast toward Cuba and the Florida Keys.
Donna took its toll on Cuba, in part because of the unstable political situation there at the time. One hundred and twenty people lost their lives in Cuba when evacuation plans were not carried out properly. On September 9, winds with speeds of up to 200 miles per hour battered the Florida Keys before Donna skipped back to the Atlantic Ocean. The storm then rode the Florida coastline, causing 13 deaths in Fort Myers and Daytona Beach. The state’s grapefruit and orange crops also took devastating blows and almost half of the largest mangrove tree forest in the United States was lost. It was the strongest storm to hit Florida until Andrew in 1992.
On September 12, Donna was battering the Outer Banks in North Carolina and was still a Category 3 hurricane. Now moving quickly, it hit the New England coast that night, still with hurricane force winds. Wind gusts of up to 130 mph were recorded in Rhode Island and there was significant damage as far north as Maine. In all, the storm caused approximately $2 billion in damages. At the time, Donna was the only storm on record to have produced hurricane winds in Florida, the Mid-Atlantic and New England. In deference to its severity, the name “Donna” was retired as a storm assignation.