Hurricane Jeanne slams into Haiti, killing thousands, on this day in 2004. Coming just days after Hurricane Ivan, Jeanne was part of a series of deadly storms to hit the region during the 2004 hurricane season.
The storm formed on September 13 near Africa’s west coast. As it moved slowly across the Atlantic, it built up strength and was a Category 2 storm when it reached Haiti. Jeanne’s heavy rains proved to more destructive than its winds. When the floodgates on Haiti’s Peligre River failed, flash floods swept through entire villages, carrying away hundreds of people. The storm’s destruction echoed a tragedy in May 2003 in which hundreds were killed after a dam burst near Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic.
Jean-Baptiste Agilus, a teacher, reported watching the water completely swallow houses in his neighborhood. ”The water rushed into all the homes in the neighborhood. It destroyed everything.” Gonaives, the port city where Haitians declared their independence from France in 1804, was particularly hard hit by Jeanne. Overall, about 3,000 people were killed by the hurricane and hundreds more were reported missing and never found. Mass graves were filled with corpses. Approximately 250,000 of Haiti’s 8 million people were left homeless by Jeanne. The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico were also battered by the storm, but suffered relatively minor losses compared to Haiti’s.
Hurricane Jeanne then left Haiti and made its way to the north end of the Bahamas, where terrified residents were largely able to evacuate in time. Jeanne’s run ended as it slammed into Florida’s central coast. The people of Florida were well-prepared—Jeanne was the fourth major hurricane to hit the state in 2004. Charley, Frances and Ivan had already pounded the state. Thanks to prudence and caution, only three people died in Florida.