A comparative study of the damage caused by Hurricane Hugo on the three main types of forest in the lesser Antilles was carried out in the mangrove forest, the semi-evergreen forest and the rainforests of Guadeloupe. Hurricane impact on these forests showed at first that high canopy trees generally prevented understorey trees from heavy direct damage (shield effect). In the species-poor, structurally homogeneous stands, in the mangrove forest, species' susceptibility was the major determinant in both intensity and type of damage. Damage was heavy in places and showed a certain spatial uniformity. In the rainforest, the high structural complexity of the vegetation generally induced a great variability in the spatial distribution of damage even at a small scale. Due to the presence of tall trees, indirect damage was locally very heavy. Clumps of large trees formed resistant structures which diminished lethal damage below the main canopy (cluster effect). In such a highly structured, species-rich forest, species' susceptibility was concealed at the local scale by the prevailing influence of vertical structure. Because of its relatively rich flora but low stature, the semi-deciduous forest exhibited intermediate patterns of damage. It was concluded that floristic composition and forest structure help to explain, and to predict, hurricane damage to forest cover.