A daily newspaper reporter in 1900 said the story of September 8, 1900, hurricane could never be truly written. This story will ever remain memorable in the minds of the people then living along the coasts of the city. The story would definitely again remind us the horror of what can happen , when the winds blow and the tides rise along the coasts of a country. These stories and many more is giving rise to the concepts of Cyclone Shelters.The tale of death, devastation and eventual recovery is close to he hearts of Galvestonians. And as it’s stories are passed on again, the 1900 storm will become part of the history of another generation.
If people says that they had family who had died or survived the storm, there is no doubt that they are referring to a family history that goes back more than 100 years.
In the years before the great storm of Sep 8, 1900, Galveston had grown from a small settlement on the texas coast into one of the wealthiest cities in the country. There were natural deep water channel, which made Galveston the most important seaport in Terxas. Trains carried cargo to and from the port, and ships travelled across the seas. In fact almost more than 70 percent of the country’s cotton crop at that time passed through the port of Galveston, and some 1000 ships called on the port annually.
The shallow waters made it easy for bathers to wade safely several yards offshore and enjoy what was considered to be a therapeutic bathing in the Gulf. But the storm left behind a legacy that extends across the country. As families moved from the island, they carried with them the story of that night. The city was home to about 37,000 people.
It was September 8th, 1900, when the waters began to rise in the morning. Children played in flood waters, which began as early as dawn. when cline then chief meterologist of the US weather Service Station in Galveston, began his observations and he noticed Gulf water creeping over the low ends of the island. According to his memoirs, he knew at that moment of impending danger. He rode up and down the beach and urged the visitors of the coming danger. Some facts which were stunning are :
In 1900, higher ground was a relative term. The highest house in the city was at an elevation between 8 and 9 feet. Till today, we even do not know, if the coastal areas have houses at a minimum elevation. I think the answer is negative. If “Yes”, then i do not think that ‘Tsunami’, could have created such a havoc on the Java, sumatra and Indian Coasts.
But even Cline’s warning proved fruitless as the night approached. By the peak of the storm, no part of the island remained dry. It was estimated that the wind speed exceeded 120 miles per hour, according to Cline. But today with modern techniques it is found out that the wind must have been between 130 – 140 miles per hour to produce the extreme tide and storm surge of the 1900.
The 15 1/2 – foot storm surge rolled over the island from gulf to bay. Houses collapsed, and as the surge continued, a wall of debris described as at least two – stories high pushed across the island. The wall destroyed everything in it’s path, building force as it moves across the island. Pictures taken after the storm show empty streets. No people. No animals. No personal belongings. Only piles of debris that buried families beneath the remains of their homes. Bodies occasionally hang outside the debris piles. But for most part, an eerie emptiness paints a picture few words could describe.
The stench of decaying bodies and of fish and other animals rotting in the streets is unimaginable. For all practical purposes, the island was destroyed that night.
While no one wants to imagine a storm that could match the strength and lasting effects of that one, any future storm, no matter its devastation, will be compared to be the benchmark of Texas Storm – The Great Storm of September 8, 1900, in which six thousand died and thirty thousand survived to tell the story and rebuild the city.
Thanks and Regards,
Mainak Majumdar, Specialist Disaster Management