Isaac Storm The Storm of 1900 On Friday evening, September 7, 1900, many of the 37,000 residents of Galveston, Texas, were settling down to dinner, few if any of them concerned about the steady 15 mph northerly wind rattling their windows. Within 48 hours, at least 8,000 of the townspeople would be dead, victims of the single worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Relatively few people are aware that the deadliest natural disaster in the United States was the hurricane that struck Galveston Island on September 8, 1900. One of the best resources that can be found to help fully understand the significance of this storm is Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson.
Dr. Isaac M. Cline was the chief of the U.S. weather Bureau’s Galveston station located on the 3rd floor of the Levy Building which can still be found on the corner of Market and 23rd. Cline had begun tracking the storm from the Cape Verde Basin off the western coast of Africa. On August 31, this storm entered the Caribbean and began to increase in size.
The hurricane passed just north of Cuba, and on Thursday September 6 entered the Gulf of Mexico. The projected course would have the storm make landfall well east of Galveston, but on Friday Dr. Cline became worried. Cline noticed a continually rising tide in spite of a 15 mph wind from out of the north as well as decreasing pressure. At 12 o’clock midnight Saturday September 8, 1900 it began to rain in Galveston. By nine in the morning water was running calf deep Roberts 2 a few blocks from the beach.
The rising tide, driving wind, rain and storm surge broke apart the bathhouses on the beach. Citizens of Galveston began to comprehend the importance of the situation and started moving toward the middle of the island along Broadway, only 8.7 feet above sea level at the time. Cline sent the final message from the island by telephone at 3:30 P.M. to the Western Union office in Houston. At five o’clock the anemometer recorded winds of 102 mph before itself was carried away in a rush. Like that, the full fury of the storm was upon the island.
Waters from the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay quickly rose to meet each other, effectively swallowing the island. Throughout the night, the people of Galveston fought to survive. Buildings and homes began collapsing; blowing debris killed or maimed many people who managed to remain above the rising tide. Water poured through second story windows, forcing hundreds into the ocean where they were drowned or killed by wind driven debris. The tide reached 15 feet with breakers more that 25 feet. Many survivors, including Isaac, his three daughters and brother, spent the night clinging to the remains of their homes.
By the morning, floodwaters had drained back into the sea. The corpses of people and animals lay intermingled through out the island; some were struck down in the street by debris, while others were crushed beneath their shelter or drowned. At least 6,000 to 7,000 Galveston resident were dead. Isaac survived along with his 3 daughters and younger brother Joe, but Isaac’s wife Cora did not survive. Her body was found a few weeks later, identified by her engagement ring, which from then on Isaac wore.
Roberts 3 High heat and humidity quickly settled over the city and made the stench from the thousands of dead humans and animals unbearable. Bodies were stacked on barges, weighted, and taken out to sea for burial. But in a morbid twist, the tides soon deposited the bodies back onto Galveston’s beaches. After that, remains were buried in mass graves or cremated in bonfires. In 1900, the population of Galveston was 37,000.
In one evening, it is estimated that 6,000 to 7,000 islanders lost their lives. Approximately, another 2,000 people in Galveston Bay area were killed. Not before or since have so many Americans perished in a disaster. By the next day the people of Galveston began rebuilding. Galveston constructed a seawall along the beach to protect the city from future storm surges. By 1905, the wall was 6 miles ling, 17 feet high and 16 feet thick, and the town’s elevation was increased 10 to 17 feet by dredging the ship channel.
This is a wonderful book; it is not only well written but also very interesting. Erik Larson did a very good job of describing this tragedy in a very effective, lifelike way. He provides information to back up the fact that before this time no one believed that a storm could be strong enough to destroy a town like Galveston, and it had to take a disaster like this to force the National Weather Service to provide citizens with proper notification of storms heading towards them. After reading this I felt very informed; it was very thorough. The only thing I could not understand was the ignorance of the National Weather Service. I learned a lot about this time period, mostly about how information that should have been released to people was not.
There were a lot of shocking facts, in my opinion, revealed. The most shocking to me was the story of the nuns and children at Roberts 4 St. Mary’s Orphanage. The nuns tied the children together in groups in order to try to keep them together during the height of the storm. Their building gets washed away and later while rummaging for survivors a child is discovered buried in the sand with a clothesline tied around him.
They followed the line and found a group of dead children tied together. All 3 nuns working at the orphanage along with 90 to 93 children died. I have been to Galveston many times and I guess this is why I was so interested in this book. I knew very little about the storm of 1900, but I feel very educated on the subject now. Roberts 5 Work Cited Larson, Erik. Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History.
New York: Crown Publishing, 1999. 1-316. History.