Hurricane Michael, an unprecedented storm that slammed into the Florida Panhandle at Category 4 strength, may well be an 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. Photos posted to Facebook by the Carrabelle Boat Club and to Twitter by the Democrat show heavily damaged, but clearly recognizable, hulls completely exposed to the elements.
The paper reported that the specific identities of the unearthed vessels has not yet been determined, since state officials are busy dealing with the immediate aftermath of the recent storm:
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 archaeologists 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 Carrabelle 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 Carrabelle in Florida’s Panhandle region at Category 2 strength, destroying an estimated 57 ships and wiping the 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. CNN reported Saturday that officials had raised the death toll to at least 36, with 26 deaths in Florida alone and others reported in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. (According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Florida death count was still being tallied in part due to “damaged infrastructure and bad communication in Bay and Gulf counties” as of Friday.)
The city of Mexico Beach was so badly damaged, with a reported 85 percent destruction rate among homes subjected to 14-foot 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. In Franklin County, storm surge wrecked homes and tore up roads close to the shore.
As the nearly century-and-a-half old shipwrecks show, the damage done by massive storms like Michael can leave its mark for an incredible length of time. In Florida, many of the worst-hit regions were among the poorest in the state; as the New York Times wrote on Sunday, locals are worried that they may be left without the 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, told the Times. “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.’”