The port of Galveston is an island city. It sits at the east end of Galveston Island, an overgrown sandbar between 2-5 km (1.5-3 mi) wide and 50 km (30 mi) long that controls the entrance to Galveston Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. It was developed as a pirate’s lair and slave market before it became an important commercial center under the Texan and then US flags. By 1900 its 38,000 citizens were increasingly prosperous, but in September of that year they lost everything in one of America’s greatest natural catastrophes.
The great Galveston hurricane slammed ashore as a storm surge of 5 m (16 ft) driven by winds of 208-224 kph (130-140 mph). The highest ground on the island was just 2-3 m (8-10 ft) above sea level. The wave splintered the smart wooden houses lining the beach, creating a battering ram of debris that swept across the island. Nothing escaped. The land disappeared, leaving lines of skeletal timbers poking out of the water, supporting useless roofs at drunken angles. Galveston endured for four hours before the winds subsided to storm force; and as the sea fell back it became clear how the debris, piled up against what remained of stronger buildings, had in fact prevented utter destruction. Fifteen blocks were matchwood, the rest was shattered, but the shape of a community was still discernible – and that was enough for those who survived.
With nothing but optimism left, the people of Galveston decided not only to rebuild, but also to raise the height of the entire town. Behind a new sea wall the island doubled its height to 5m (16 ft.) All 2100 buildings were raised on jacks while sand was pumped underneath them. It was stubborn (if not bloody-minded in the face of nature’s power!), but it worked. Since the disaster, Galveston has withstood dozens of major hurricanes.
When was The Great Galveston Hurricane: September 8 1900
Where was The Great Galveston Hurricane: Galveston, Texas, USA
What was The Great Galveston Hurricane death toll: Over 6,000 died, and the horror stories are legion. Galveston suffered terribly, but the hurricane continued. It lacerated a 320 km (200 mi) wide corridor through five states, before hitting Chicago and tearing into Canada and roaring over New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, killing hundreds in its path and sinking 92 ships between Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, and seriously damaging 100 others.
You should know: The hurricane eventually dissipated over Siberia on its fifth day. Its colossal destruction on life and property is immortalized in a folk song written a century later, called “Wasn’t That a Mighty Storm?”