Louisiana Hurricane – October 2, 1893

A hurricane of strength 4 struck the area southeast of present-day New Orleans. This hurricane left behind a trail of enormous destruction, including the death of at least 2,000.

On the morning of October 2, 1893, Hurricane Chenier Caminanda, with winds peaking at a speed of 135 mph, struck the area southeast of present-day New Orleans. The hurricane then curved eastward across southeast Louisiana and turned northward over Alabama. Leaving behind a trail of destruction and caused the death of 2,000. This became the second deadliest hurricane in U.S. history prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Indeed, the 1893 hurricane began in the Caribbean five days before hitting land and followed a route that became familiar at the time of Katrina, first moving to the northwest and striking the Yucatan Peninsula before moving into the warmer waters of the Gulf where it gathered enough strength to become a category 4 hurricane as it reached New Orleans.

It is difficult to be precise about the causes of death during the 1893 hurricane. Throughout almost the entire nineteenth century, New Orleans suffered from yellow fever with occasional outbursts of epidemics that killed large numbers of people. The question arises whether Chenier Caminanda’s destruction caused additional deaths besides those that would already have occurred from yellow fever. Overall, more than 41,000 people died in the city from yellow fever between 1817 and 1905. The number of fatalities ranged from zero, in the few years in which the plague caused no casualties, to more than a thousand in nine of the eighty-eight years during which the fever was active. The cause of the yellow fever outbreaks was quite readily identified as inadequate disposal of human waste. A city that is about at the same elevation as the sea needs a special system to dispose of the contents of home privies and, for most of the century, no plan proved to be effective. Only during the Civil War, in order to protect the soldiers, and then only for a period of three years, was waste disposal efficiently handled.

Following a serious epidemic in 1853, a city ordinance was enacted by which every home had to empty its privy when its contents reached a level of one foot below the land surface. The homeowner was required to deposit the contents into the river or the sea and, if he failed, public authorities were required to ensure that it was done. For various reasons the plan never worked. An observation by the local medical officer describes the failure in simple but tragic language. He stated that the people have a huge privy in common and the inhabitants of New Orleans live upon a dung heap. A yellow fever epidemic struck the city in 1878, much worse than that which struck in 1853. The disease started in New Orleans in July and took nearly four months to run its course through the Mississippi Valley. When it was over, the nation reported more than 100,000 cases of fever and a toll of 20,000 deaths. Particularly hard hit was New Orleans where 5,000 lost their lives.

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