With Hurricane Ike bearing down on the Texas coast, weather experts are bringing up the deadly precedent set by the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. In September of that year a Category 4 storm ripped through Texas, flooding most of the island and destroying the city. Historians estimate that a storm surge of 8-15 feet wreaked havoc on the community and contributed to the deaths of more than 6,000 people. The 1900 Galveston hurricane remains the deadliest storm in American history.
The U.S. Weather Bureau (a predecessor of today’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) had an officer reporting from Texas. Isaac M. Cline lost his wife and his home in the storm but was able to report on what happened there:
I reached home and found the water around my residence waist deep. I at once went to work assisting people, who were not securely located, into my residence, until forty or fifty persons were housed therein. About 6:30 p.m. Mr. J. L. Cline, who had left Mr. Blagden at the office to look after the instruments, reached my residence, where he found the water neck deep. He informed me that the barometer had fallen below 29.00 inches; that no further messages could be gotten off on account of all wires being down, and that he had advised everyone he could see to go to the center of the city; also, that he thought we had better make an attempt in that direction. At this time, however, the roofs of houses and timbers were flying through the streets as though they were paper, and it appeared suicidal to attempt a journey through the flying timbers. Many people were killed by flying timbers about this time while endeavoring to escape to town.
He also reported on the devastating aftermath of the storm:
Sunday, September 9, 1900, revealed one of the most horrible sights that ever a civilized people looked upon. About three thousand homes, nearly half the residence portion of Galveston, had been completely swept out of existence, and probably more than six thousand persons had passed from life to death during that dreadful night. The correct number of those who perished will probably never be known, for many entire families are missing.
NOAA’s archives contain photos of the storm which show dozens of homes utterly destroyed and a chilling photo of workers recovering bodies from the area.
YouTube users have also uploaded some historic footage of the devastation. This one, taken by one Thomas Edison, shows Galveston’s harbour.