Galveston 1900

We’ve got a little frontal system that is slowly plodding our direction that has little ripples of energy wandering up along it. The boundary should be slow enough to provide ample chance for much needed scattered showers over the weekend. A second front in the week ahead will bring relief from the summer-like weather and take temperatures to or below seasonal norms for the latter half of the upcoming week. Sub-Tropical Storm Gabrielle will be more or less a nuisance for parts of the East Coast as rapid or significant development is not anticipated.

On This Date in History: On September 8, 1900 Galveston, Texas in many regards ceased to exist. A hurricane slammed into the island and it changed history. It was the greatest disaster in US history as the death toll ranges between 6,000 and 12,000. The exact number will never be known. There are a couple of good books on the subject, the most recent being Isaac’s Storm. It got that moniker because the man in charge of the National Weather Bureau in Galveston was a man named Isaac Cline. The NWB had issued advisories on the storm and said it was moving up the East Coast. But Cline was making observations and taking observations from ships coming into port. From this he concluded that he had a major hurricane heading toward Galveston.

Now much of the history is based on Cline’s later report but it has come under some criticism and scrutiny. Cline reported the weather was great the day before but he rode his white horse in vain up and down the beach warning people of impending doom. This is one of the items that some now question. In any event, the storm did hit at night. Galveston had had storms in the past. They called them a “big blow.” Water began filling the streets but some observers noted the water was salt water. Cline knew the storm surge had covered the island. Houses floated by with people inside. Galveston homes had slate roofs to prevent the spread of fire. The bits of slate chipped off in the high winds and became bullets, cutting down people as they tried to get shelter. It was a terrible situation. The bridges and ferries were long before the height of the storm cut off by the high tide and there was no escape for anyone.

There are many tragic tales, including the death of Cline’s wife, whom he identified weeks later by her wedding ring. Also, the St. Mary’s Orphanage totally collapsed killing almost all of the nuns and children. I think one or two kids survived in a tree. The nuns had tied a rope to the children. The next day in the sand, they found a hand sticking up with a rope around the wrist. As they pulled up the rope, they found a nun with a string of children still attached.

In 1900, Galveston was the “Wall Street of the South.” It was the financial center of the South and the largest city in Texas with about 50,000 inhabitants. Perhaps 1/4 of the population died that night. Galveston was the second busiest port in the country. After the storm, the Houston Ship Channel was built as the first public(Federal)/private financed public works project in the nation, which is now quite common. The Army Corps of Engineers literally raised the entire island up to 15 feet. Structures that remained in tact had their bottom floors filled in or they were lifted. A great 15 foot seawall was built to protect the city and it has done so ever since, though much of the beachfront is lost.

By 1970, Houston had become the largest city in Texas, the 4th largest city in the nation, the second busiest port in the world and one of the financial and corporate centers of the country. Galveston still had 50,000 people. Today it has about 60,000, its glorious past lost to its now sprawling neighbor to the north, all because of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Everything Galveston was at the turn of the 20th Century, Houston became and more in just 70 years.

One of the first news reels came out of the storm as Thomas Edison sent a film crew to record the devastation. Here are some links with other pictures that include some of the ones above. Other storms have devastated the US coast, in Florida and New England and most recently with Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005. I can tell you, it will happen again and all of the government in the world cannot stop it.

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