Hurricane Michael unearthed 119-year old vessels


Hurricane Michael was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the United States in terms of pressure, behind the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Camille of 1969.

It slammed into the Florida Panhandle at Category 4 strength, may well be a harbinger of things to come in a world where climate change is poised to make such devastating hurricanes all the more likely. But it also gave us a look at the past in the form of destroyed vessels from 119 years ago that Michael’s terrifying storm surge unearthed.

According to a report this weekend in the Tallahassee Democrat, Michael’s waters dredged up shipwrecks on Dog Island in Franklin County that are believed to be vessels beached during the 1899 Carrabelle hurricane.

They are well-documented wrecks, according to the Florida Department of State. Because state resources are being allocated to more urgent hurricane recovery efforts, there are no plans for state archaeologist to visit the site.

“They’ve been mostly stationary since 1899 when they were wrecked in a hurricane,” wrote DOS spokeswoman Sarah Revell. “From time to time, some parts of the site have become exposed.”

The 1899 Carabelle Hurricane is so named, according to the Florida Historical Society, because after it was done dealing destruction in the Dominican Republic it barreled into the city of Carabelle in Florida’s Panhandle region at Category 2 strength, destroying an estimated 57 ships and wiping town almost entirely off the map.

That hurricane resulted in at least seven reported deaths and hundreds of injuries, the Florida Historical Society wrote, as well as did significant damage to other nearby coastal communities in Florida.

Michael was far stronger, reaching the Panhandle at Category 4 strength and doing massive damage well beyond the coast. It was reported that officials had raised the death toll to at least 36, with 36 deaths in Florida alone and others reported in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

The city of Mexico Beach was so badly damaged, with a reported 85 percent destruction rate among homes subjected to 14-fot storm surge, that it is unclear whether the community can rebuild on its own or whether it will be taken over by developers that have long had eyes on its waterfront properties, the Palm Beach Post wrote.

As the nearly century-and-a-half old shipwrecks show, the damage done by massive storms like Michael can leave its mark for an incr3edible length of time. In Florida, many of the worst -hit regions were among the poorest in the state; locals are worries that they may be left without support they need to rebuild their communities in the long run, not just now.

“We came here because we know people are going to start forgetting,” 49-year old volunteer Norma Ward of Plant City, who was helping distribute supplies in the city of Marianna. “You can only see so many pictures on TV of broken homes and trees. Then you start thinking, ‘O.K., everything’s all good again.’”