While Hurricane Ida fizzled, as expected, prior to making a US landfall near Mobile, AL it’s previous life was much more eventful and devastating. In El Salvador, well over 100 people are dead and scores more missing after some of the mountainous areas of the Central American nation got 14 inches of rain in just four hours. (See photo gallery) Some 10,000 in El Salvador are in need of food. However, from reading the reports, one can surmise that all of the rain that El Salvador received was not directly related to Hurricane Ida. Reports claim that it rained for 5 days and US Navy Meteorologists suggest that an area of low pressure was drawn in from the Pacific in the wake of the tropical cyclone as it passed by. But the bottom line is that rain brought mud and boulders cascading down the side of a volcano that buried towns and villages. There was fear of such an event in the Philippines when Typhoon Mirinae crossed the region of the active volcano Mount Mayon. Those fears were not realized but El Salvador did not fair as well. Nicaragua took the initial impact of the minimal hurricane on November 5, 2009 and reports of damage and flooding as well as contaminated water supplies have prompted relieve efforts from Catholic Relief Services to that nation. Some are comparing the rain and devastation to Hurricane Mitch in 1998 that killed some 11,000 in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador and neighboring Central American nations.
On This Date in History: Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was worth $104 million when he died on January 4, 1877 at the age of 83. That was about $2 million more than the US Treasury had in its possession. Literally, richer than the government and, therefore, perhaps almost as powerful. In 2007 inflation adjusted dollars, the figure comes to over $2 billion. He made 90 percent of his fortune from railroads. The odd thing is that Vanderbilt hated railroads and wanted nothing to do with them until he was 68 years old. In his lifetime, railroads represented the new emerging market, so why would he be so adverse to such a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity?
Well, Vanderbilt had done quite well for himself with a fleet of schooners that he contracted out to the US government to supply forts. That’s where he got the nickname “Commodore.” As the steamships came about, he took advantage of that new technology and also subverted to law to make gains in that business. Ultimately, he was vindicated by the US Supreme Court that broke a New York State monopoly granted to Robert Fulton. Steamboats were fine for him but not steam locomotives. His aversion dated back to this date in 1833, when he lay near death. Cornelius Vanderbilt had the unfortunate distinction of being part of the nation’s first railroad accident the previous day. He was a passenger on the Camden and Amboy Railroad bound for Perth Amboy, New Jersey. An axle broke and the train jumped the track. In America’s first fatal train wreck, two people were killed and the Commodore was left with two broken ribs and a punctured lung, which was often a fatal condition in 1833. Riding in the car ahead of him was former President John Quincy Adams who was not hurt.
The Long Island Railroad provided service between Boston and New York with a steamboat transfer. Guess who owned the steamboats? In 1844, Vanderbilt was elected as Director of the Long Island Railroad and in 1857, he got the vote as the Director of the New York and Harlem Railroad. I suppose as director of two railroads, he could see the potential financial windfall and the dollar signs in his eyes overcame any psychosis he had in his head. Secretly, he began selling his assets in the steamboat business and began buying up shares of the New York and Harlem Railroad in 1862. He was worth $11 million when he began he started riding the Iron Horse and he never got off. The stock soared to $50 a share. He then bought the Hudson River Railroad in 1864 and then the New York Central Railroad in 1867. While the Civil War raged on, it was business as usual for men in the North like Vanderbilt. His acquisitions continued with some controversy but, eventually, he owned a railroad network that connected the eastern seaboard to the western frontier in the northern plains. Wonder what he would have done had he really liked railroads?