Hurricane Flora ranks as the strongest (by maximum sustained winds), the most intense (by minimum central pressure), the deadliest, and most expensive hurricane impact for Trinidad and Tobago to date. It is only one of two hurricanes that have made landfall on T&T. Though widely understood as a major Category 3 Hurricane at landfall, recent reanalysis downgraded this tropical cyclone into a Category 2 Hurricane but its devastation across T&T remains unmatched.
This hurricane killed 18 people across Tobago and two across Trinidad, with a total of 30 million (1963 USD) in crop and property damage.
Tobago found itself in the crosshairs of Hurricane Flora on September 30th, 1963. Four hours before the eye made landfall across Tobago, feeder bands produced periods of heavy rainfall across the island. The eye of the hurricane made landfall at approximately 1:40 PM, officially recorded at 2:00 PM September 30th, 1963, with maximum sustained winds at 90 knots (167 KM/H) with gusts to 110 knots (205 KM/H). (This was revised downwards in November 2019.)
Storm surge between five to seven feet was forecast, which may have contributed to the sinking of six ships in the Scarborough Harbour, each weighing between 4 and 9 tons. Meanwhile, the heavy rainfall across the island triggered a massive landslide from Mount Dillon, leading into Castara.
The strong winds caused severe damage to coconut, banana, and cocoa plantations, with 50% of the coconut trees being destroyed and another 16% being severely damaged. 75% of forest trees fell, and most of the remaining were severely damaged.
Concordia, Argyle, Richmond, and Mt. St. George suffered 100% destruction according to media reports. Goldsborough and Bon Accord recorded 95% destruction; Forres Park and Kings Bay at 90%; Charlottesville and Louis D’or at 85%; Studley Park, Pembroke, Glamorgan and Speyside 80%; Kilgwyn and Hope at 75%; Bacolet at 70%; Belle Gardens, Delaford, and Friendship at 60%.
Doctors and nurses had to be dispatched by boat and helicopter to areas where roads were inaccessible. Tobago Police were dispatched via helicopter to Hermitage Village and Bloody Bay with flood and medicine. A hurricane relief ship, HMS Tartar, arrived on October 5th, 1963.
The passage of Hurricane Flora destroyed 2,750 of Tobago’s 7,500 houses, and damaged 3,500 others. The hurricane killed 18 on the island and resulted in $30 million in crop and property damage (1963 USD).
The aftermath of Hurricane Flora in Tobago also led to a shift in the island’s economy from crop cultivation to tourism, as most of their crops had been severely damaged. The canopy in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve took over twenty-five years to recover and regain its previous growth.
Because of the widespread destruction, travel to Tobago was limited. No commercial passengers could travel from Trinidad to Tobago unless the Prime Minister’s office issued a permit. Rescue staff were allocated flights by government officials.
Due to the traumatic impact of Hurricane Flora on so many Caribbean countries, the name “Flora” was retired from the list of hurricane names and replaced with “Fern.”
Winds on Trinidad reached 55 MPH (89 KM/H) with higher gusts of over 70 mph (110 KM/H). Visibility was reduced due to heavy rainfall and strong winds, particularly across the Northern Range, which shielded much of Trinidad from Flora’s winds.
Heavy rainfall caused the Caroni River to break its banks from the afternoon of October 1st through October 3rd.
Two people across Trinidad died due to drowning. When Flora passed the island, and the winds turned to the southwest, many small boats in westward-facing harbors were sunk. Two launches were sunk in the Port of Spain Harbour.
At Saubles Bay, Chaguaramas, in the vicinity of the Chaguaramas Naval Base, nine boats were destroyed, and eight were damaged. Additionally, several large vessels sustained damage and resulted in them being intentionally sunk. One boat was also lost at the Yacht Club, located midway between Port of Spain and Chaguaramas.
Damage across the island was minimal, totaling to $100,000 (1963 USD) with two recorded deaths.