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The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900

As I have written several times in this column, I collect old magazines such as old issues of The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Look, Life etc. In old magazines one can look back and see how times have changed. Among my old editions of magazines I have a March 1938 edition of Readers Digest. That edition of the Digest is especially dear to me as my birthday is March 22, 1938 and I enjoy reading about what took place the same month or at least what was being written about during the time of my birth.
Occasionally as time permits, I get one of the old magazines I have in my office and read a few stories. Recently I picked up another old Readers Digest — a December 1938 issue — and looked at the list of stories that was on the front cover. My eyes were drawn to a story titled “The Great Galveston Storm.” I then began to seek information about that tragic event in history. I knew some things about the storm but there was much I didn’t know.

I learned that the storm that destroyed the city of Galveston, Texas September 8, 1900 was what would probably be classified a class 4 hurricane today. Coming off the Gulf of Mexico with winds up to 135 miles mph and pushing a 15-foot wall of water onto what was essentially a sand bar island that was only 8.7 feet above sea level, the hurricane devastated the city of Galveston. Both the wind and the water together left the city of 38,000 destroyed and claimed some 8,000 lives before the hurricane ended. It has been called the worst natural disaster in America’s history.

Galveston was a growing city and after the American Civil War it grew even more. By 1885, the city had tremendous commercial power. Two factors influenced a slowdown in growth and dislodged it from its leading position: the port of Houston whose ship channel is entered from Galveston bay and the hurricane of 1900. From the finest brick homes to the lowliest cottages the wind and water made no distinction. People frantically sought safety from the storm but in many cases it was to no avail. When it was over the storm had reportedly destroyed 2,638 houses and 30 feet of shoreline.
As soon as possible the city’s citizens went to work to develop the commission form of government. A six-mile-long seawall was built that stands seventeen feet above mean low tide. It has been extended since then. It seems to me impossible to imagine the horror experienced by the citizens at that time and place in America’s history when a thriving city was subjected to so much destruction.