In late October 1998, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America, leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.
Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical depression on October 22, and by October 26 had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane. Sustained winds reached 180 mph, while gusts were more than 200 mph. After making landfall in Honduras on October 29, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America before reaching Florida as a tropical storm on November 4-5.
Honduras and Nicaragua were especially hard hit by the hurricane. In Honduras, floods and mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall washed away entire villages, and the majority of the country’s crops and infrastructure were destroyed. The hurricane also took a major toll on Nicaragua. In one area alone, Posoltega, more than 2,000 people perished in a huge mudslide. The other Central American nations (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama) also were affected by Hurricane Mitch, although the death tolls in these locations were significantly lower than Honduras and Nicaragua.
Hurricane Mitch: Casualties
In total, more than 11,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000) died because of the hurricane, making Mitch the most deadly storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the eastern Caribbean, in which more than 20,000 people perished. Additionally, several million people were made homeless or severely impacted by Hurricane Mitch, which is estimated to have caused more than $5 billion in damages.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the World Meteorological Organization retired Mitch from its list of Atlantic Ocean hurricane names, due to the storm’s devastating impact.