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1900 Galveston hurricane

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Great Galveston Hurricane
of 1900
Category 4 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Galveston Hurricane (1900) SWA.JPG
Surface weather analysis of the hurricane on September 8, just before landfall.
FormedAugust 27, 1900
DissipatedSeptember 17, 1900
(Extratropical after September 11, 1900)
Highest winds1-minute sustained: 145 mph (230 km/h)
Lowest pressure936 mbar (hPa); 27.64 inHg
Fatalities6,000–12,000
(Deadliest in U.S. history; fourth-deadliest Atlantic hurricane)
Damage$31.4 million (1900 USD)
(equivalent to $946 million in 2018, adjusted for inflation; see Aftermath for more)
Areas affectedLesser Antilles, Greater Antilles (Dominican Republic and Cuba landfalls), Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, Gulf Coast of the United States (Texas landfall), Midwestern United States, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Eastern Canada
Part of the 1900 Atlantic hurricane season

The Great Galveston Hurricane,[1] known regionally as the Great Storm of 1900,[2][3][4] was the deadliest natural disaster in U.S history, one of the deadliest hurricanes (or remnants) to affect Canada, and the fourth-deadliest Atlantic hurricane overall. The hurricane left between 6,000 and 12,000 fatalities in the United States; the number most cited in official reports is 8,000. Most of these deaths occurred in the vicinity of Galveston after storm surge inundated the entire island with 8 to 12 feet (2.4 to 3.7 m) of water. In addition to the number killed, every house in the city sustained damage, with at least 3,636 destroyed. Approximately 10,000 people in the city were left homeless, out of a total population of nearly 38,000. The disaster ended the Golden Era of Galveston, as the hurricane alarmed potential investors, who turned to Houston instead. The Gulf of Mexico shoreline of Galveston island was subsequently raised by 17 ft (5.2 m) and a 10 mi (16 km) seawall erected.[5]

The first observed hurricane of the season, the tropical cyclone was first detected by a ship well east of the Windward Islands on August 27. Initially at tropical storm intensity, it slowly strengthened while moving steadily west-northwestward and entered the northeastern Caribbean Sea on August 30. The storm made landfall in the Dominican Republic as a weak tropical storm on September 2. It weakened slightly while crossing Hispaniola, before re-emerging into the Caribbean Sea later that day. On September 3, the cyclone struck modern day Santiago de Cuba Province and then slowly drifted along the southern coast of Cuba. Upon reaching the Gulf of Mexico on September 6, the storm strengthened into a hurricane. Significant intensification followed and the system peaked as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph (230 km/h) on September 8. Early on the next day, it made landfall near present day Jamaica Beach, Texas.[nb 1] The cyclone weakened quickly after moving inland and fell to tropical storm intensity late on September 9. The storm turned east-northeastward and became extratropical over Iowa on September 11. The extratropical system strengthened while accelerating across the Midwestern United States, New England, and Eastern Canada before reaching the Gulf of Saint Lawrence on September 13. After striking Newfoundland later that day, the remnants entered the far North Atlantic Ocean and weakened, finally dissipating near Iceland on September 15.

The storm brought flooding and severe thunderstorms to portions of the Caribbean, especially Antigua and Cuba. It is likely that much of South Florida experienced tropical storm force winds, though mostly minor damage occurred overall. Hurricane force winds and storm surge inundated portions of southern Louisiana, though no significant damage or fatalities were reported. The hurricane brought strong winds and storm surge to a large portion of east Texas, with Galveston suffering the brunt of the impact. Further north, the storm and its remnants continued to produce heavy rains and gusty winds, which downed telegraph wires, signs, and trees in several states. There were two deaths in Illinois, and one each in Missouri and New York. Property damage from the storm throughout the United States was estimated at $30 million.[nb 2] The remnants also brought severe impact to Canada. In Ontario, damage reached about $1.35 million, with $1 million to crops.[nb 3] There were at least 52 deaths – and possibly as many as 232 deaths – in Canada, mostly due to sunken vessels near Newfoundland and the French territory of Saint-Pierre. Throughout its path, the hurricane caused more than $31.4 million in damage.[nb 4]

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

The storm's origins are unclear, because of the limited observational methods available to meteorologists at the time. Ship reports were the only reliable tool for observing hurricanes at sea, and because wireless telegraphy was in its infancy, these reports were not available until the ships put in at a harbor. The 1900 storm, like many powerful Atlantic hurricanes, is believed to have begun as a Cape Verde hurricane—a tropical wave moving off the western coast of Africa. The first formal sighting of the hurricane's precursor occurred on August 27, about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) east of the Windward Islands, when a ship recorded an area of "unsettled weather". The storm passed through the Leeward Islands on August 30, probably as a tropical depression as indicated by barometric pressure reports from Antigua.[9]

Three days later, Antigua reported a severe thunderstorm passing over, followed by the hot, humid calmness that often occurs after the passage of a tropical cyclone. By September 1, U.S. Weather Bureau observers were reporting on a "storm of moderate intensity (not a hurricane)" southeast of Cuba. Continuing westward, the storm made landfall on southwest Cuba on September 3, dropping heavy rains. On September 5, it emerged into the Florida Straits as a tropical storm or a weak hurricane. Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico were favorable for further strengthening of the storm. The Gulf had seen little cloud cover for several weeks, and the seas were "as warm as bathwater", according to one report.[9] The Weather Bureau ignored reports from Cuban meteorologists because they expected the storm to curve northeast along the coast of North America: "Assumption became fact as the official government reports stated, wrongly, that the storm was traveling northeast in the Atlantic." However, a region of high pressure had pushed the storm to the west into the Gulf of Mexico.[10]

The storm was reported to be north of Key West on September 6,[11] Late on September 6, the ship Louisiana encountered the hurricane after departing New Orleans. Captain Halsey estimated wind speeds of 100 mph (160 km/h), which corresponds to Category 2 intensity on the modern-day Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale. In the early morning hours of Friday, September 7, the Weather Bureau office in New Orleans, Louisiana, issued a report of heavy damage along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. Details of the storm were not widespread; damage to telegraph lines limited communication.[12] The Weather Bureau's central office in Washington, D.C., ordered storm warnings raised from Pensacola, Florida, to Galveston. The hurricane continued to strengthen significantly while heading west-northwestward across the Gulf of Mexico, becoming a Category 3 hurricane at 06:00 UTC on September 7 and reaching Category 4 intensity about 12 hours later. Upon becoming a Category 4 hurricane, the cyclone reached its maximum sustained wind speed of 145 mph (230 km/h).[6] By the afternoon of September 7, large swells from the southeast were observed on the Gulf, and clouds at all altitudes began moving in from the northeast. Both of these observations are consistent with a hurricane approaching from the east. The Galveston Weather Bureau office raised its double square flags; a hurricane warning was in effect.[9]

Hurricane track from September 1 to 10

On September 8, the hurricane weakened slightly and recurved to the northwest while approaching the coast of Texas.[6] By 22:00 UTC, the Weather Bureau office in Galveston was observing sustained hurricane-force winds.[9] The cyclone made landfall around 02:00 UTC on September 9 near modern-day Jamaica Beach with sustained winds of 140 mph (220 km/h).[6] Upon making landfall, it was estimated that the hurricane had a atmospheric pressure of 936 mbar (27.6 inHg), the lowest pressure associated with the system.[13] While crossing Galveston Island and West Bay, the eye passed just west of the city of Galveston.[9] The hurricane quickly weakened after moving inland, weakening to a Category 2 around 06:00 UTC on September 9 and then to a Category 1 hurricane about 12 hours later. Later that day, it curved northward and weakened to a tropical storm at 18:00 UTC. About 24 hours later, the cyclone weakened to a tropical depression over Kansas on September 10. The storm lost tropical characteristics and transitioned into an extratropical cyclone over Iowa by 12:00 UTC on the following day. Moving rapidly east-northeastward, the extratropical system re-intensified, becoming the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane over Ontario on September 13. After crossing Newfoundland and entering the far northern Atlantic, the remnants of the hurricane weakened and were last noted near Iceland on September 15.[6]

Background[edit]

In 1900, the city of Galveston, Texas, was a booming town.[12] According to the 1900 Census, the population of Galveston was 37,788, an increase from 29,084 people recorded in the 1890 Census.[14] The city was fourth largest municipality in the state of Texas in 1900 and among the highest per capita income rates in the United States.[15] Galveston had many ornate business buildings in a downtown section called The Strand, which was considered the "Wall Street of the Southwest."[16] The city's position on the natural harbor of Galveston Bay along the Gulf of Mexico made it the center of trade in Texas, and one of the busiest ports in the nation.[17] With this prosperity came a sense of complacency.[12]

A quarter of a century earlier, the nearby town of Indianola on Matagorda Bay was undergoing its own boom and was second to Galveston among Texas port cities. Then in 1875, a powerful hurricane blew through, nearly destroying the town. Indianola was rebuilt, though a second hurricane in 1886 caused residents to simply give up and move elsewhere.[18] Many Galveston residents took the destruction of Indianola as an object lesson on the threat posed by hurricanes. Galveston is built on a low, flat island, little more than a large sandbar along the Gulf Coast. These residents proposed a seawall be constructed to protect the city, but their concerns were dismissed by the majority of the population and the city's government.[19]

Since its formal founding in 1839, the city of Galveston had weathered numerous storms, all of which the city survived with ease. Residents believed any future storms would be no worse than previous events.[20] In order to provide an official meteorological statement on the threat of hurricanes, Galveston Weather Bureau section director Isaac Cline wrote an 1891 article in the Galveston Daily News in which he argued not only that a seawall was not needed to protect the city, but also that it would be impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to strike the island.[21] The seawall was not built, and development activities on the island actively increased its vulnerability to storms. Sand dunes along the shore were cut down to fill low areas in the city, removing what little barrier there was to the Gulf of Mexico.[22]

Preparations[edit]

On September 4, the Galveston office of the National Weather Bureau (as it was then called) began receiving warnings from the Bureau's central office in Washington, D.C., that a tropical storm had moved northward over Cuba.[9] At the time, they discouraged the use of terms such as tornado or hurricane to avoid panicking residents in the path of any storm event. The Weather Bureau forecasters had no way of knowing the storm's trajectory, as Weather Bureau director Willis Moore implemented a policy to block telegraph reports from Cuban meteorologists at the Belen Observatory in Havana – considered one of the most advanced meteorological institutions in the world at the time – due to tensions remaining in the aftermath of the Spanish–American War. Moore also changed protocol to force local Weather Bureau offices to seek authorization from the central office before issuing storm warnings.[23]

Aftermath
People rummage through rubble of destroyed houses in Galveston several days after the hurricane
House in Galveston on Avenue N, October 15, 1900

Weather Bureau forecasters believed the storm would travel northeast and affect the mid-Atlantic coast. "To them, the storm appeared to have begun a long turn or 'recurve' that would take it first into Florida, then drive it northeast toward an eventual exit into the Atlantic."[24] Cuban forecasters adamantly disagreed, saying the hurricane would continue west. One Cuban forecaster predicted the hurricane would continue into central Texas near San Antonio. Early the next morning, the swells continued despite only partly cloudy skies. Largely because of the unremarkable weather, few residents heeded the warning. Few people evacuated across Galveston's bridges to the mainland, and the majority of the population was unconcerned by the rain clouds that began rolling in by midmorning.

Isaac Cline claimed that he took it upon himself to travel along the beach and other low-lying areas warning people personally of the storm's approach.[25] These reports by Cline and his brother, Galveston meteorologist Joseph L. Cline,[26] have been called into question in recent years, as no other survivors corroborated these accounts. In fact, Cline's role in the disaster is the subject of some controversy. Supporters point to Cline's issuing a hurricane warning without permission from the Bureau's central office;[27] detractors (including author Erik Larson) point to Cline's earlier insistence that a seawall was unnecessary and his belief that an intense hurricane could not strike the island.

Impact[edit]

Caribbean[edit]

Heavy rainfall fell in Cuba in association with the storm, including up to 12.58 in (320 mm) in a 24‑hour period in the city of Santiago de Cuba.[28] The city experienced its worst weather since 1877. The southern end of the city was submerged with about 5 ft (1.5 m) of water. Firefighters and police rescued and aided stranded residents. St. George, a German steamer, ran aground at Daiquirí.[29] In Jamaica, heavy rainfall from the storm caused all rivers to swell. Floodwaters severely damaged banana plantations and washed away miles of railroads. Damage estimates ranged in the thousands of British pounds.[30]

United States[edit]

Deadliest United States hurricanes
Rank Hurricane Season Fatalities
1 "Galveston" 1900 8,000–12,000
2 "San Ciriaco" 1899 3,400
3 Maria 2017 2,982*
4 "Okeechobee" 1928 2,823
5 "Cheniere Caminada" 1893 2,000
6 Katrina 2005 1,200
7 "Sea Islands" 1893 1,000–2,000
8 "Indianola" 1875 771
9 "Florida Keys" 1919 745
10 "Georgia" 1881 700
Reference: Deadliest US hurricanes[31][32]

The Great Galveston hurricane made landfall on September 9, 1900, near Galveston, Texas. It had estimated winds of 145 mph (233 km/h) at landfall, making the cyclone a Category 4 storm on the modern day Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale.[6] The hurricane caused great loss of life, with a death toll of between 6,000 and 12,000 people;[33] the number most cited in official reports is 8,000, giving the storm the third-highest number of deaths or injuries of all Atlantic hurricanes, after the Great Hurricane of 1780 and Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is the deadliest natural disaster to strike the United States. This loss of life can be attributed to the fact that officials for the Weather Bureau in Galveston brushed off the reports because the city had "weathered them all" and they did not realize the threat.[34] The second-deadliest storm to strike the United States, the San Ciriaco hurricane of 1899, caused around 3,400 deaths.[31]

The hurricane occurred before the practice of assigning official code names to tropical storms was instituted, and thus it is commonly referred to under a variety of descriptive names. Typical names for the storm include the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the Great Galveston Hurricane, and, especially in older documents and publications, the Galveston Flood. It is often referred to by Galveston locals as the Great Storm or the 1900 Storm.

Florida to Louisiana[edit]

Portions of southern Florida experienced tropical storm force winds, with a sustained wind speed of 48 mph (77 km/h) in Jupiter and 40 mph (64 km/h) in Key West.[35] The hurricane left "considerable damage" in the Palm Beach area. Many small boats were torn from their moorings and capsized. The bulkhead of the pier was washed away, while docks and a number of seawalls were damaged.[36] High winds in North Florida downed telegraph lines between Jacksonville and Pensacola.[37] In Mississippi, the city of Pass Christian recorded winds of 58 mph (93 km/h).[38] Tides produced by the storm inundated about 200 ft (61 m) of railroad tracks in Pascagoula (then known as Scranton), while a quarantine station on Ship Island was swept away.[39]

In Louisiana, the storm produced gale force winds as far inland as DeRidder and as far east as New Orleans, with hurricane-force winds observed in Cameron Parish. Along the coast, storm surge inundated Johnson Bayou, while tides at some locations reached their highest level since the Indianola hurricane of 1875.[40] Winds and storm surge caused severe damage to rice crops, with at least 25% destroyed.[41] The community of Pointe à la Hache experienced at total loss of rice crops.[42] Farther east, roads were flooded by storm surge in the communities of Gretna and Harvey near New Orleans, leaving the streets impassable via horses. Winds downed telegraph lines in the southeastern Louisiana in the vicinity of Port Eads.[39] Two men went missing and were presumed to have drowned after sailing away from Fort St. Philip and not returning in a timely manner.[43] However, they were both later found alive.[44]

Texas[edit]

The first train to reach Galveston left Houston on the morning of September 8 at 9:45 a.m. It found the tracks washed out, and passengers were forced to transfer to a relief train on parallel tracks to complete their journey. Even then, debris on the track slowed the train's progress to a crawl. The 95 travelers on the train from Beaumont found themselves at the Bolivar Peninsula waiting for the ferry that would carry them, train and all, to the island. When it arrived, the high seas forced the ferry captain to give up on his attempt to dock. The train crew attempted to return the way they had come, but rising water blocked the train's path.[45]

Ten refugees from the Beaumont train sought shelter at the Point Bolivar lighthouse with 200 residents of Port Bolivar who were already there. The 85 who stayed with the train died when the storm surge overran the tops of the cars.[46]

Galveston[edit]

At the time of the 1900 hurricane, the highest point in the city of Galveston was only 8.7 ft (2.7 m) above sea level.[21] The hurricane brought with it a storm surge of over 15 ft (4.6 m) that washed over the entire island. Storm surge and tides began flooding the city by the early morning hours of September 8. Water rose steadily from 3:00 p.m. CST (2100 UTC) until approximately 7:30 p.m. (0130 UTC September 9), when eyewitness accounts indicated that water rose about 4 ft (1.2 m) in just four seconds. An additional 5 ft (1.5 m) of water had flowed into portions of the city by 8:30 p.m. (0230 UTC September 9).[48] The cyclone dropped 9 in (230 mm) of precipitation in Galveston on September 8, setting a record for the most rainfall for any 24-hour period in the month of September in the city's history.[49]

The highest measured wind speed was 100 mph (160 km/h) just after 6 p.m. on September 8 (0000 UTC September 9), but the Weather Bureau's anemometer was blown off the building shortly after that measurement was recorded.[21] Contemporaneous estimates placed the maximum sustained wind speed 120 mph (190 km/h), though later estimates placed the hurricane at the higher Category 4 classification on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale.[50] The lowest recorded barometric pressure was 28.48 inHg (964.4 hPa), considered at the time to be so low as to be obviously in error.[33] Modern estimates later placed the storm's central pressure at 27.49 inHg (930.9 hPa), but this was subsequently adjusted to the storm's official lowest measured central pressure of 27.63 inHg (935.7 hPa).[51]

Searching for bodies in Galveston in the aftermath of the storm of 1900. At the time this film was shot, the stench of hundreds of bodies could be smelled for miles. One body was discovered (but not filmed) while the camera crew was present.

Much of the destruction was caused by storm surge. All bridges connecting the island to the mainland were washed away, while approximately 15 mi (24 km) of railroad track was destroyed. Winds and storm surge also downed electrical, telegraph, and telephone wires. The surge swept buildings off their foundations and dismantled them. Many buildings and homes destroyed other structures after being pushed into them by the waves.[52] Every home in Galveston suffered damage, with 3,636 homes destroyed.[48] Approximately 10,000 people in the city were left homeless, out of a total population of nearly 38,000.[53] The Tremont Hotel, where hundreds of people sought refuge during the storm,[54] was severely damaged.[55]

All public buildings also suffered damage, including city hall – which was completely deroofed –[52] a hospital, a city gas works, a city water works, and the custom house. Three schools and St. Mary's University were nearly destroyed. Many places of worship in the city also received severe damage or were completely demolished.[55] The St. Mary's Orphans Asylum, owned by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, was also destroyed. Of the 93 children and 10 sisters who occupied the property during the storm, only three of children and none of the sisters survived.[56] Overall, the storm destroyed about 7,000 buildings of all uses in Galveston alone. Property damage estimates reached $25 million. The area of destruction – an area in which nothing remained standing after the storm – was approximately 1,900 acres (770 ha) of land.[55] In the immediate aftermath of the storm, a 3 mi (4.8 km) long, 30 ft (9.1 m) wall of debris was situated in the middle of the island.[52] The few buildings that survived, mostly solidly built mansions and houses along the Strand District, are today maintained as tourist attractions.

As severe as the damage to the city's buildings was, the death toll was even greater. Because of 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.[57] At 11 a.m. (1700 UTC) 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 U.S. 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 initially considered to be an exaggeration.[58]

Many who died had their corpses piled onto carts for burial at sea.

The citizens of Houston knew a powerful storm had blown through and had prepared to provide assistance. Workers set out by rail and ship for the island almost immediately. Rescuers arrived to find the city completely destroyed. It is believed 8,000 people—20% of the island's population—had lost their lives.[59] Estimates range from 6,000 to 12,000.[33] Most had drowned or been crushed as the waves pounded the debris that had been their homes hours earlier.[60] A number of fatalities also occurred after strong winds turned debris into projectiles.[48] Many survived the storm itself but died after several days being 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.[60]

The dead bodies were so numerous that burying all of them was impossible. The dead were initially weighted down on barges and dumped at sea, but when the gulf currents washed many of the bodies back onto the beach, a new solution was needed.[61] Funeral pyres were set up on the beaches, or wherever dead bodies were found, and burned day and night for several weeks after the storm. The authorities passed out free whiskey to sustain the distraught men conscripted for the gruesome work of collecting and burning the dead.[46] More people were killed in this single storm than the total of those killed in at least the next two deadliest tropical cyclones that have struck the United States since. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.[62]

Midwest[edit]

The storm maintained tropical characteristics and Saffir–Simpson tropical storm-force winds (39–50 mph) when it crossed the Upper Midwest, with more than 4 inches (100 mm) of rain being reported over most of the southern third of Wisconsin. Wind created problems all over, including over Lake Michigan, and other areas in the path of the storm had similar problems. (Tropical storms reach Wisconsin and surrounding areas to the east, west, and south once every 50 years on average with others in the 19th century, 1961, and (subject to debate) Hurricane Ike in 2008; tropical depressions hit twice to three times every two years; and subtropical storms and depressions hit equally or more rarely than their tropical counterparts.)[citation needed]

The extratropical remnants of the cyclone re-intensified to the equivalency of a tropical storm and continued to strengthen, bring strong winds to the Midwestern United States. Strong winds in Missouri toppled a brick wall under construction in St. Joseph fell over, killing a man and severely injuring another.[63] In Illinois, particularly hard hit was the city of Chicago, which experienced wind gusts up to 84 mph (135 km/h).[35] Thousands of dollars in damage occurred to roofs, trees, signs, and windows. Several people were injured and two deaths occurred in the city, one from a live wire and the other was a drowning after a boat capsized in Lake Michigan.[64] Rough seas in Lake Erie resulted in several maritime incidents offshore Ohio. The steamer John B. Lyon capsized about 5 mi (8.0 km) north of Conneaut, drowning 14 out of 16 crew members. About 10 mi (16 km) farther north, the schooner Dundee sank, causing at least one death. The steamer City of Erie, with about 300 passengers aboard, was hit by a tidal wave that swept over the bulwarks, but later reached safety in Canada with no loss of lives.[65] In Toledo, strong winds disrupted telegraph services. Winds also blew water out of part of the Maumee River and Maumee Bay, while a number of vessels were buried in the mud or beached.[66]

New York City[edit]

The rapidly moving storm was still exhibiting winds of 65 mph (105 km/h) by the time it reached New York City on September 12, 1900.[67] The New York Times reported that pedestrian-walking became difficult and that one death was attributed to the storm. A sign pole, snapped by wind, landed on a 23-year-old man, crushing his skull and killing him instantly, while two others were knocked unconscious. Awnings and signs on many buildings broke and the canvas roofing at the Fire Department headquarters was blown off.[68]

Closer to the waterfront, along the Battery seawall, waves and tides were reported to be some of the highest in recent memory of the fishermen and sailors. Spray and debris were thrown over the wall, making working along the waterfront dangerous. Small craft in New York Harbor were thrown off course and tides and currents in the Hudson River made navigation difficult. In Brooklyn, The New York Times reported that trees were uprooted, signs and similar structures were blown down, and yachts were torn from moorings with some suffering severe damage. Because of the direction of the wind, Coney Island escaped the fury of the storm, though a bathing pavilion at Bath Beach suffered damage from wind and waves.[68]

New England[edit]

In Connecticut, winds gusted up to about 40 mph (64 km/h). The apple crops, already endangered by drought conditions, suffered severe damage, with reportedly "hardly an apple left on a tree in the entire state". Prior to the storm, the apple crop was considered the largest in years.[69] In the town of Orange, twelve large tents at a fair were ripped. At another fair in New Milford, fifteen tents collapsed, forcing closure of the fair.[70] Along the coast, the storm produced abnormally high tides, with tides reaching their highest heights in six years at Westbrook. Water reached the bulkheads and remained there for several hours.[71] In Rhode Island, the storm left damage in the vicinity of Providence. Telegraph and telephone services were interrupted, but not to such a large extent. Some small crafts in Narragansett Bay received damage, while apple orchards experienced slight losses.[72]

Lightning produced by the storm ignited a number of brush fires in Massachusetts, particularly in the southeastern portions of the state, with winds spreading the flames. In Plymouth and other nearby towns, some residents evacuated from the fires by boat. Most cottages around the Big Long, Gallows,[73] Halfway,[74] and Little Long ponds were reduced to burning coals.[73] In Everett, orchards in the Woodlawn section suffered complete losses of fruit. Two wooden frame building were demolished, while winds also toppled fences throughout the city.[75] Winds damaged many telephone and electric wires in Cambridge. A lineman sent to fix the electrical wires nearly died when a pole snapped during a fierce wind gust. Orchards in the city suffered near complete loss and many shade trees were also damaged. At least a few chimneys toppled and several others were left leaning. A new bathhouse at Harvard University lost a portion of its tin roof and its copper cornices.[76] At Cape Cod, a wind speed of 45 mph (72 km/h) was observed at Highland Light in North Truro. Waves breached the sane dunes at multiple locations along the cape, with water sweeping across a county road at Beach Point in North Truro. A number of fishing boats sank and several fishhouses were inflicted severe damage.[77]

Strong winds in Vermont generated rough seas in Lake Champlain. Early reports indicated that a schooner sunk near Adams Ferry with no survivors,[78] but the vessel was later found safely anchored at Westport, New York.[79] According to a man near the lake, all water from the New York portion of the lake was blown to the Vermont side, crashing ashore in waves as high as 15 to 20 ft (4.6 to 6.1 m).[78] In the state capital of Montpelier, several large trees at the state house were uprooted. Within Montpelier and vicinity, farmers suffered some losses to apples and corn. Telephone and telegraph services were almost completely cut off. In Vergennes, a number of telephone wires snapped, while many apples, pears, and plums were blown off the trees. Additional damage to fruit and shade trees occurred in Middlebury and Winooski.[79] The city of Burlington experienced its worst storm in many years. Winds downed all telephone and telegraph wires, whereas many trees had severe damage. Some homes were deroofed.[80]

In New Hampshire, the storm left extensive in the city of Nashua. Winds tore roofs off a number of buildings, with several roofs landing on the streets or telephone wires. Chimneys in each section of the city collapsed; many people narrowly escaped injury or death. In Nashua and the nearby cities of Brookline and Hollis, thousands of dollars in losses occurred to apple crops, described as "practically ruined".[81] The city of Manchester was affected by "one of the most furious windstorms which visited this city in years." Telephone and telegraph communications were nearly completely out for several hours, while windows shattered and trees snapped. Street railway traffic experienced delays.[82]

Canada[edit]

Deadliest Canada hurricanes
Rank Hurricane Season Fatalities
1 "Newfoundland (1)" 1775 4,000–4,163†
2 "Nova Scotia (1)" 1873 600†
3 "Nova Scotia (3)" 1927 173–192†
4 "Labrador" 1882 140
5 Hazel 1954 81
6 "Newfoundland (2)" 1883 80
7 "Nova Scotia (2)" 1926 55–58†
8 "Galveston" 1900 52–232†
9 "Newfoundland (3)" 1935 50†
10 "Saxby Gale" 1869 37+
† – estimated total
References: Deadliest Atlantic Hurricanes 1492-1996,
Canada’s most destructive hurricanes,
Eight devastating Canadian Hurricanes

From September 12–14, the extratropical remnants of the Galveston hurricane affected six Canadian provinces, resulting in severe damage and extensive loss of life. Peak winds reached 49–77 mph (79–124 km/h) in Toronto, breaking windows throughout the city. A fire broke out at a flour mill in Paris, Ontario, and the flames were fanned by the storm, resulting in $350,000 in damage to the mill and 50 other stores and offices. Total crop damage in Ontario alone amounted to $1 million. Impact to crops was particularly severe at St. Catharines, where many apple, peach, pear, and plum orchards were extensively damaged. At Lake Ontario, high winds wrecked havoc on vessels, beaching several boats, destroying a number of boats, and setting some others adrift. One person died in Niagara Falls when a man attempted to remove debris from a pump station, but he was swept away into the river instead.[83]

Maximum rainfall in Canada reached 3.9 in (100 mm) in Percé, Quebec. In Nova Scotia, damage was reported in the Halifax area. A number of fences and trees fell over, while windows shattered and a house under construction collapsed. Two schooners were driven ashore at Sydney and a brigantine was also beached at Cape Breton Island. Another schooner, known as Greta, capsized offshore Cape Breton Island near Low Point, with the fate of the crew being unknown. The majority of loss of life occurred due to numerous shipwrecks off the coast of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island. The overall death toll in Canada is estimated to be between 52 and 232, making this at least the eighth deadliest hurricane to affect Canada. The large discrepancy between the fatality figures is due to the fact that many people were reported missing in Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and later presumed to be dead.[83]

Aftermath[edit]

Costliest U.S. Atlantic hurricanes 1900–2010
Total estimated property damage, adjusted for wealth normalization[84][85]
Rank Hurricane Season Cost
(2016 USD)[86]
1 "Miami" 1926 $172.8 billion
2 "Galveston" 1900 $109.4 billion
3 Katrina 2005  $137.6 billion
4 "Galveston" 1915  $74.9 billion
5 Andrew 1992  $61.4 billion
6 "New England" 1938  $43.2 billion
7 "Cuba–Florida" 1944  $42.6 billion
8 "Okeechobee" 1928  $37.0 billion
9 Donna 1960  $29.5 billion
10 Camille 1969  $23.3 billion
Main article: List of costliest Atlantic hurricanes

In less than 24 hours the city of Galveston was effectively obliterated. The final death toll is not known with certainty but the most conservative estimate is around 6,000. Most historians believe the loss of life to be in the area of 8,000 with some suggesting as many as 12,000 perished. With the city in ruins and rail lines to the mainland destroyed, the survivors had little to live on until relief arrived.[87]

Rebuilding[edit]

Survivors set up temporary shelters in surplus U.S. Army tents along the shore. They were so numerous that observers began referring to Galveston as the "White City on the Beach". Others constructed so-called "storm lumber" homes, using salvageable material from the debris to build shelter.[88]

Reporter Winifred Bonfils, a young journalist working for William Randolph Hearst, was the first reporter on the line at the flood's aftermath. She delivered an exclusive set of reports and Hearst sent relief supplies by train.[89]

By September 12, Galveston received its first post-storm mail. The next day, basic water service was restored, and Western Union began providing minimal telegraph service. Within three weeks, cotton was again being shipped out of the port.[48]

Before the Hurricane of 1900, Galveston was considered to be a beautiful and prestigious city and was known as the "Ellis Island of the West" and the "Wall Street of the Southwest".[90] However, after the storm, development shifted north to Houston, which was enjoying the benefits of the oil boom. The dredging of the Houston Ship Channel in 1909 and 1914 ended Galveston's hopes of regaining its former status as a major commercial center.[91]

The Galveston city government was reorganized into a commission government, a newly devised structure wherein the government is made of a small group of commissioners, each responsible for one aspect of governance. This was prompted by fears that the existing city council would be unable to handle the problem of rebuilding the city. The apparent success of the new form of government inspired about 500 cities across the United States to adopt a commission government by 1920. However, the commission government fell out of favor after World War I, with Galveston itself switching to council–manager government in 1960.[92]

Protection[edit]

Seawall, Galveston district

To prevent future storms from causing destruction like that of the 1900 hurricane, many improvements to the island were made. The first 3 miles (4.8 km) of the Galveston Seawall, 17-foot (5 m) high, were built beginning in 1902 under the direction of Henry Martyn Robert. An all-weather bridge was constructed to the mainland to replace the ones destroyed in the storm.

The most dramatic effort to protect the city was its raising. Dredged sand was used to raise the city of Galveston by as much as 17 feet (5.2 m) above its previous elevation. Over 2,100  buildings were raised in the process of pumping sand underneath,[25] including the 3,000-ton St. Patrick's Church. The seawall and raising of the island were jointly named a National Historical Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2001.

In 1915, a storm similar in strength and track to the 1900 hurricane struck Galveston. The 1915 storm brought a 12-ft (4-m) storm surge that tested the new seawall. Although 53 people on Galveston Island lost their lives in the 1915 storm, this was a great reduction from the thousands who died in 1900.[93] Other powerful tropical cyclones would test the effectiveness of the seawall, including Hurricane Carla in 1961, Hurricane Alicia in 1983, and Hurricane Ike in 2008. Although Galveston was flooded by storm surge during Carla, severe coastal flood-related damage primarily occurred to structures unprotected by the seawall.[94] Following Hurricane Alicia, the Corps of Engineers estimated that the seawall prevented about $100 million in damage.[95] Despite the seawall, Ike left extensive destruction in Galveston due to storm surge, with preliminary estimates indicating that $2 billion in damage occurred to beaches, dwellings, hospitals, infrastructure, and ports.[96] Damage in Galveston and surrounding areas prompted proposals for improvements to the seawall, including the addition of floodgates and more seawalls.[97]

Open Era and beyond[edit]

In historiography, the hurricane and the rebuilding afterward divide what is known as the Golden Era (1875–1900) from the Open Era (1920–1957) of Galveston. The most important long-term impact of the hurricane was to confirm fears that Galveston was a dangerous place to make major investments in shipping and manufacturing operations; the economy of the Golden Era was no longer possible as investors fled. In 1920, Prohibition and tax law enforcement opened up new opportunities for criminal enterprises related to gambling and bootlegging in the city. Galveston rapidly became a prime resort destination enabled by the open vice businesses on the island. This new entertainment-based economy brought decades-long prosperity to the island.[citation needed]

To commemorate the hurricane's 100th anniversary in 2000, the 1900 Storm Committee was established and began meeting in January 1998. The committee and then-Mayor of Galveston, Roger Quiroga, planned several public events in remembrance of the storm, including theatrical plays, an educational fundraising luncheon, a candlelight memorial service, a 5K run, the rededication of a commemorative Clara Barton plaque, and the dedication of the Place of Remembrance Monument.[98] At the dedication of the Place of Remembrance Monument, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word sang Queen of the Waves and 10 roses and 90 others were placed around the monument to commemorate the 90 nuns and 10 children who perished after the hurricane destroyed the St. Mary's Orphans Asylum.[99] Speakers at the candlelight memorial service included U. S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was born in Galveston; Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration D. James Baker; and CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, who gained fame for his coverage during Hurricane Carla in 1961.[100] The Daily News published a special 100th anniversary commemorative edition newspaper on September 3, 2000.[98]

The last reported survivor of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, Mrs. Maude Conic of Wharton, Texas, died November 14, 2004, at the claimed age of 116,[101] although the 1910 census and other records indicate she was younger than that.[102]

Today, Galveston is home to a Port of Galveston, the oldest port along the Untied States Gulf Coast to the west of New Orleans. The city has three institutes of higher learning – Galveston College, Texas A&M University at Galveston, and the University of Texas Medical Branch.[103] American National Insurance Company, a major insurance corporation, is based in Galveston.[104] Homes and other buildings that survived the hurricane have been preserved, and give much of the city a Victorian look.[103] The seawall, since extended to 10 mi (16 km),[105] is now an attraction itself, as hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions have been built along its length.[103]

Museum[edit]

The Galveston Historical Foundation maintains the Texas Seaport Museum at Pier 21 in the port of Galveston. Included in the museum is a documentary titled The Great Storm, that gives a recounting of the 1900 hurricane.[106][107]

Gallery[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

Footage by employees of Thomas A. Edison showing storm damage
  • 1934: "Wasn't That a Mighty Storm" is an American folk song concerning the 1900 Galveston hurricane that originated as a spiritual and was revived and popularized by Eric Von Schmidt and Tom Rush in the 1960s.[108][109]
  • 1935: Film director King Vidor was born in Galveston and survived the great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Based on that experience, he published a fictionalized account of that cyclone, titled "Southern Storm", for the May 1935 issue of Esquire magazine. Erik Larson excerpts a passage from that article in his 1999 book, Isaac's Storm:[62]

    I remember now that it seemed as if we were in a bowl looking up toward the level of the sea. As we stood there in the sandy street, my mother and I, I wanted to take my mother's hand and hurry her away. I felt as if the sea was going to break over the edge of the bowl and come pouring down upon us.

  • 1946: Meteorologist Joseph L. Cline, who with his brother Isaac Cline played a pivotal role in the hurricane, shares his account of the storm in an autobiography titled When the Heavens Frowned.[26]
  • 1999: In Isaac's Storm, Erik Larson describes the storm and the pivotal roles played by Galveston Weather Service director Isaac Cline and his meteorologist brother Joseph Cline.[62]
  • 2000: Texan writer Ron Rozelle's novel The Windows of Heaven depicts the Galveston hurricane.
  • 2004: Canadian writer Paul Quarrington's novel Galveston, although set on a Caribbean island in the present day, centers on two storm chasing characters who share a lifelong obsession with historical accounts of the Galveston hurricane.[110]
  • 2006: Dark Water Rising, a historical fiction novel by Marian Hale
  • 2009: Ain Gordon's play A Disaster Begins centers on the Galveston hurricane.[111]
  • 2013: Widow's Tears, a China Bayles mystery novel by Susan Wittig Albert
  • 2013: The Promise, a historical fiction novel by Ann Weisgarber
  • 2015: The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, a children's novel by Jacqueline Kelly
  • 2015: The Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America's Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900, a nonfiction account of the hurricane by Al Roker

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In local time, Central Standard Time (CST), the hurricane made landfall in Texas around 8:00 p.m. on September 8. However, government meteorological agencies such as NOAA use Coordinated Universal Time (UTC),[6] which is six hours ahead of CST.[7]
  2. ^ All damage figures pertaining to the United States are in 1900 USD, unless otherwise noted
  3. ^ All damage figures pertaining to Canada are in 1900 CAD, unless otherwise noted
  4. ^ The Canadian dollar and United States dollar were roughly identical in value between January 1879 and August 1914.[8]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ Stephens, Sara G. (2012-12-31). "Portrait of a Legend: The Great Storm of 1900: St. Mary's Orphan Asylum". Houston Family Magazine. Retrieved 2017-09-06.
  4. ^ "The Great Storm of 1900" Trinity Episcopal Church
  5. ^ Cement Age. Cement Age Company. 1909. p. 204.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]