A great storm hit Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900. It was not an ordinary storm because it left a lot of destruction and nearly wiped out the entire city. People lost lives and property was destroyed. Fortunately, some survived the storm and lived to tell of horror stories of that fateful day that changed their lives and the landscape of Galveston completely. This particular storm stands out among the most devastating natural disasters in the American history.
Signs of the storm
The initial signal of the storm was noticed on August 30, 1900 according to Dr. H.C. Frankenfeld a forecast official at the Weather Bureau. The Windward Islands had a latitude of about 15 degrees north and longitude 63 degrees west. The latitude remained the same the following day although it had moved towards the island of Porto Rico.
During this time there were no clear signs of a storm formation (Esquitine 1). On September 1, 1900 a storm had reached Santo Domingo city and on September 2nd it was near Jamaica. It reached Cuba by September 3rd and led to heavy rains within 24 hours.
The storm continued to travel, by September 5th it had gone past Cuba, and on September 6th it had almost reached southern Florida (Esquitine 1). At this time advisory messages were sent to Bahama Islands and Key West to warn of an impending storm from September 1st followed by others on 2nd 3rd and 4th September 1900. The warning was extended and included “the gulf coast as far as Galveston and the Atlantic coats to Norfolk” (Esquitine 1; Neil 131).
On September 7, 1900 the storm had reached south of Los Angeles and signals sent up to North Texas coast. On September 8 the storm was approaching Texas coast and was very close (Esquitine 1).
During this time the residents of Galveston went on with their daily activities but Cline who was the chief meteorologist at the weather service station noticed that the gulf water was creeping on the lower side of the island. He saw that the storm was swelling and the winds growing stronger.
He automatically knew that a danger was looming and he warned people to seek shelter from the impeding storm (Cline 1). He continued sending warning signals all day long but his efforts were hampered when the lines got destroyed (The 1900 Strom an Island Washed Away 1).
Technology in use during 1900
Galveston City had wealth due to its proximity to the sea. It was a significant seaport and many ships docked here. Above 70 per cent of the country’s cotton passed through the port.
Therefore, Galveston was not only a settlement area, but also an important business area. Due to the wealth of the city infrastructure such as electricity and telephone were available before the storm struck (Rogers 134). Through the telephones residents were able to communicate. The city also had a weather station to monitor the weather and this was crucial in sending warnings against foul weather.
This is how Galveston was able to learn about the coming storm from Washington through a telegram days before it struck. However, it was not helpful much because the residents had enjoyed relative calm sea thus they had developed false sense of security as Cline had said that a hurricane was unlikely to hit Galveston (The Storm of 1900: Tragedy and Triumph Mother Nature’s Wrath 1).
On the contrary, the technology at that time was not sufficient like the advanced technology of today that makes communication easy and rapid from one corner of the globe to another. Furthermore, the instruments used in meteorology were not advanced, as there were no weather satellites (Pohlen 211). However today the technology is advanced and it is easy to predict hurricanes. At the turn of the twentieth century, hurricanes were unknown and it was hard for the meteorological officials to predict that the storm of 1900 would be a hurricane.
For instance, Mr. Cline had to use a stopwatch to time the wave speed (The Storm of 1900: Tragedy and Triumph Mother Nature’s Wrath 1; Cline 1). During the 1900 storm, the first signs of the storm were observed on August 30. Galveston knew of the storm by September 4th but due to poor communication the details given concerning the storm were unclear and sketchy (Weems 1).
Lack of advanced communication derailed the efforts of warning the local residents about the storm because Mr. Cline had to drive a horse-drawn cart and send telegrams thus he could not reach everyone and by the time the struck only a few people had managed to run to safety (Olfason 1). The city had buildings but they were not tall and strong enough to protect the people. They lacked safe places to run to and all the buildings were submerged under water with the exception of a few.
The bridges near the beach collapsed and people could not access safer houses located downtown because the bridges were not strong enough to withstand the powerful storm. However, if the storm had happened in the recent times communication to warn people would have reached the people fast with the sophisticated methods of communication such as the internet and live broadcasting that can be transmitted simultaneously to many parts of the world through the use of satellite.
The aftermath of the storm
The storm killed many people and estimates put the figure between six and eight thousand. Bodies covered the streets and others lay beneath collapsed buildings. The survivors were in shock as they came to terms with the aftermath of the storm (Ramos 1). Some of the dead met their fate as they ran towards safety and were hit by bricks hurtling from collapsing buildings.
Others were decapitated by objects flying from buildings. Others drowned in the raging water as they could not swim to safety. Those living in the city outskirts were hit hardest by the storm because their houses were structurally weak and could not withstand the storm. Some families were wiped out and others had a few survivors.
In addition, the soldiers who were at forts died because they were in temporary shelters which could not give them any protection from the storm. The storm was so strong such that it destroyed the saving station erected at Fort point and in some instances the crew we swept away to Texas City (Esquitine 1). Many more people sustained injuries and those taken to the hospital succumbed to their injuries.
The wind during the storm had a high velocity and this contributed to the great devastation of property as the storm wave covered the city with water. Property destroyed was estimated to be between twenty and thirty million dollars. The storm destroyed about one thirds of the city and about 2, 636 houses.
The shoreline was not spared ships docked at the port also got damaged. Schools and churches also were destroyed by the storm expect a few because the storm did not leave any land dry in the city (Green 3; Weems 1). Figure 1 shows a ruined public school building.
Looting and crime
Criminals took advantage of the chaos to loot anything they could lay their hands on as pirates started extortion. The level of security in the city went down and police had to patrol to maintain security. They shot criminals as they had the authority to do so as marshal law was in place (Olfason 1).
Some of the criminals even had the guts to rob the dead bodies. For example one man had chopped of twelve fingers from the dead to remove expensive rings on them (Weems 1). Merchants took advantage of the storm to hike the prices of basic commodities. Transportation also became very expensive over short distances. It was hard for the survivors to cope because they had just lost every thing and therefore, they had to depend on relief.
Response to the disaster
The people who survived the storm were in need of relief because they did not have even the basic necessities such as food and clean drinking water. Temporary shelter was put up for the survivors and a relief committee formed. Urgent help was required to help the people of Galveston. Relief started trickling in from far and wide as more people responded by sending relief after news of the 1900 storm spread to other parts of the world.
The other cities in the United States also responded and sent relief to Galveston. Organizations such as the Red Cross, churches, religious groups, labour not forgetting fraternal organizations came to render their help. Individuals were not left behind as they also made their contribution for instance a little girl gave 10 cents for the relief efforts (Ramos 1). Necessities such as food, water and clothing were given to the survivors.
The committee made arrangements of disposing of the rotting bodies in the city. It was a daunting task due to the stench renting the air (Olfason 1). The bodies also posed a health hazard thus had to be disposed and some were buried where they were found. The lack of sanitation continued to spread diseases and many more people succumbed to illnesses related to poor sanitation days after the storm. The committee also made plans for rebuilding the city and the men and women who remained joined in the efforts.
A concrete wall was erected to separate the city and the sea as people had now understood the importance of having such a wall (Anderson, 98). The entire city was raised using sand from the sea to avoid a repeat of such a destruction in the future, “The grade of the city was raised almost 17 feet at the seawall, with a gradual downward slope to the north” (Olfason 1).
The great storm of 1900 remains one of the greatest tragedies the United States has witnessed with the highest number of people lost in a single disaster. Galveston responded to the storm well by forming a committee that came up with good recommendations such as the construction of a seawall that proved to be important in 1915 when another hurricane struck as only few people lost lives.
There is a lot to learn about sea disaster such as the importance of communication as it can help save more lives if people get the warning signals in good time. Furthermore people who live along the coastal line and those who visit should be educated on how to respond to storm warnings so that they will know the correct safety measures to take to avoid becoming victims of raging waters.
Anderson, John. The formation and future of the upper Texas coast: a geologist answers questions about sand, storms, and living by the sea. Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2007
Cline, Steve, Special Report on the Galveston Hurricane of September 8, 1900. history.noaa.gov.2004. Web. 7 Dec. 2010.
Esquitine, Grace. The Galveston, Texas 1900 Storm. lowery.tamu.edu. n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2010.
Green, Nathan. Story of the 1900 Galveston hurricane. New York: Pelican Publishing, 2000
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Ramos, Mary. After the Great Storm: Galveston’s Response to the Hurricane of Sept. 8, 1900. texasalmanac.com. 2010. Web. 7 Dec. 2010.
Rogers, Lisa Waller. The great storm: the hurricane diary of J.T. King, Galveston, Texas, 1900. Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 2002
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