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The SS Central America sank carrying 578 people and 30,000 pounds of gold

Sunday, September 12th 2021, 6:05 am - On this day in weather history, the SS Central America sank.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.


On Saturday, Sept. 12, 1857, the SS Central America sank after getting caught in a Category 2 hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas. The steamer, also known as the Ship of Gold, was 280 feet that operated between Central America and the United States.

On Sept. 3, 1857, the SS Central American was travelling from Colón, Panama to New York City with 477 passengers and 101 crew aboard. The ship was also holding about 10 tonnes of gold.

A depiction of the sinking "A depiction of the sinking." Courtesy of Wikipedia

First, the ship stopped in Havana and then continued northward. On Sept. 9, the steamer got caught in a Category 2 hurricane. By Sept. 11, the wind destroyed the ship's sail and the boiler showed signs of failing. The ship also started to take on water. A leak sprung in one of the ship's seals, which proved to be the tipping point for the steamer's fate.

The crew flew the ship's flag upside down, which is a distress signal in the U.S. No one came to rescue the crew or passengers.

Hurricane path Hurricane path. Courtesy of Wikipedia

The crew and passengers tried to remove the water from the ship, but couldn't keep up with the rising floods. The storm battered the ship for a second time.

On Sept. 12, those aboard the SS Central American spotted two other ships. A total of 153 passengers made their way to lifeboats. The storm continued to produce heavy winds and rough water. At 8 p.m., the ship sank.

Fifty-three people were saved from the water, and 425 people were killed.

There was approximately US$625 million (2021 value) worth of gold on the ship. On Sept. 11, 1988, the ship was located by the Columbus-America Discovery Group of Ohio. Around $100-150 million worth of gold was recovered from the ship. After legal complications, the majority of the gold was awarded to the team who discovered it.

To learn more about SS Central America, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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