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Galveston Hurricane of 1900

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Author Topic: Galveston Hurricane of 1900  (Read 6250 times)
Jessie Phallon
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« on: September 07, 2007, 11:13:08 pm »

Destruction

At the time of the 1900 storm, the highest point in the city of Galveston was only 8.7 feet (2.7 m) above sea level. The hurricane had brought with it a storm surge of over 15 feet (4.6 m), which washed over the entire island. The surge knocked buildings off their foundations, and the surf pounded them to pieces. Over 3,600 homes were destroyed, and a wall of debris faced the ocean. The few buildings which survived, mostly solidly-built mansions and houses along the Strand District, are today maintained as tourist attractions.

As terrible as the damage to the city’s buildings was, the human cost was even greater. Due to the destruction of the bridges to the mainland and the telegraph lines, no word of the city’s destruction was able to reach the mainland. At 11 a.m. on September 9, one of the few ships at the Galveston wharfs to survive the storm, the Pherabe, arrived in Texas City on the western side of Galveston Bay. It carried six messengers from the city. When they reached the telegraph office in Houston at 3 a.m. on September 10, a short message was sent to Texas Governor Joseph D. Sayers and President William McKinley: “I have been deputized by the mayor and Citizen’s Committee of Galveston to inform you that the city of Galveston is in ruins.” The messengers reported an estimated five hundred dead; this was considered to be an exaggeration at the time.

The citizens of Houston knew a powerful storm had blown through and had made ready to provide assistance. Workers set out by rail and ship for the island almost immediately. Rescuers arrived to find the city completely destroyed. Eight thousand people—20% of the island’s population—had lost their lives. Most had drowned or been crushed as the waves pounded the debris that had been their homes hours earlier. Many survived the storm itself, but died after several days trapped under the wreckage of the city, with rescuers unable to reach them. The rescuers could hear the screams of the survivors as they walked on the debris trying to rescue those they could. They realized that there was no hope.

The bodies were so numerous that burial was not a viable option. Initially, the dead were taken out to sea and dumped; however, the currents of the gulf washed the bodies back onto the beach, so a new solution was needed. Funeral pyres were set up wherever the dead were found. In the aftermath of the storm, pyres burned for weeks. Authorities had to pass out free whiskey to the work crews that were having to throw the bodies of their wives and children on the burn piles.

More people were killed in this single storm than have been killed in the over three hundred hurricanes that have struck the United States since, combined, as of 2006. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.


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