On September 10, Gilbert attained hurricane status west of the Dominican Republic. Barometer readings fell precipitously there the following day, eventually reaching 26.13, the lowest ever recorded to that date. Gaining strength, Gilbert slid past Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, heading straight for Jamaica.
On September 12, with winds reaching 175 miles per hour, the now Category 5 hurricane devastated Jamaica. With a 40-mile-wide eye, the hurricane covered the entire island. The tin roofs that covered most homes were no match for the winds–about 80 percent of the island’s homes were seriously damaged and approximately 500,000 of the country’s 2 million people were left homeless. Nearly every home on the island lost electricity. Worst of all, more than 200 people lost their lives.
Two days later, Gilbert was still going strong when it crossed the Gulf of Mexico and hit the Yucatán Peninsula. The resort town of Cancun lost half of its hotels and nearby Cozumel was also severely damaged. Thirty thousand people in the area lost their homes. As the storm moved toward the peninsula’s west side, tens of thousands were forced to flee. In all, almost 200,000 Mexicans were left homeless by Gilbert.
In the Gulf of Mexico, a 300-foot Cuban freighter caught in the storm was thrown into a shrimp boat, killing 28 people. More people were killed when the hurricane moved to the northeast coast of Mexico near Monterrey. Police evacuated the area, but sent people on a detour along the Santa Cantina River. A flash flood of the river caught four buses and several cars unprepared and 200 people were washed away. Finally, a spate of tornadoes on the edge of Gilbert killed 3 people in Texas.