It’s funny how some things grab our attention while others go completely unnoticed, isn’t it? On September 8, 1900, I wasn’t born; my parents weren’t born, and my grandfather was less than a year old and yet, I don’t remember a time that I did not know about what my family called the Galveston Hurricane. In fact, I grew up to become a teacher who took students to Galveston each year, and one of the things they learned about while there was the hurricane that killed thousands on the tiny island on that long ago September day.
Obviously, in 1900 with no radar and no radio or television to provide some type of warning system, everyone on the island was quite simply a sitting duck at the mercy of the coming storm. By noon, the rains were extremely heavy and by mid-afternoon, the parts of the town were flooded.
I’m not sure when the lone bridge was taken out by the storm, leaving residents with no way off of the island, but by dark the entire island was submerged, and hurricane winds of 140 MPH were attacking everything in the storm’s path. I can’t even start to imagine the suffering and the terror that went on throughout that long, very dark night.
Today, it is according to whom you speak or to what article you read. Estimates on the death toll during that one day range anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000, and the part of the story that my family should never have told where a very impressionable little girl might hear?
Obviously, September in south Texas is hot. There was no easy way to get off of the island, and there were thousands of dead bodies strewn across what was then called Galveston Island. You can imagine the very real problems that confronted the survivors, all of whom were also trying to cope with unimaginable grief. When they could not get the bodies far enough out to sea to keep them from washing back up on the shore, those poor people were forced to simply pile them up and burn them. I cannot imagine surviving with any sanity at all.
The results of the Galveston Hurricane are still felt by the city of Galveston today. Because of the vast damage, Galveston was never able to regain its spot as a leading port city, falling to nearby Houston. However, on a much happier note, the need for a seawall became extremely clear due to the hurricane and by 1904, the seawall that visitors to Galveston see on each visit was a reality. With the addition of many, many tons of sand, the city’s elevation was also raised to a much safer level.