The Great Hurricane of 1900
The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was the deadliest natural event in United States history. To this day, it has been the deadliest hurricane and the second-most costly hurricane ever–second only to Katrina when adjusted for historical value. Some 8,000 people were left dead after the Category 4 storm made landfall on September 8, 1900. To put this in perspective, Hurricane Katrina took the lives of about 1800 people.
The entire island of Galveston naturally sits about eight feet above sea level. In a single day, some 3600 homes were destroyed when 15 foot waves and 145 mph winds surged over the entire island. Since the event, the island has been built up by about 17 feet and a 10 square mile seawall was also erected to prevent future storms from ever ravaging the island again. But after the 1900 event, the damage had been done. Investors pulled up stakes, cut their losses, and moved their businesses inland, toward Houston. That was the end of the Golden Era for Galveston. The hurricane happened before the practice of naming storms.
The 1900 Storm was believed to have begun like most Atlantic storms–off the west coast of Africa. It was observed to be building into a “severe thunderstorm” as it approached the Caribbean. Cuban meteorologists warned their American counterparts that the storm was building–but they were ignored. By the time the storm arrived to Florida, the U. S. Weather Bureau was reporting only a “moderate storm” and not a hurricane. The day before the storm hit Galveston, it created heavy damage along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. However, due to damaged telegraph lines, communication was limited. The storm hit Galveston with inadequate warning, and almost no one was prepared. Disaster ensued. At the time, Galveston was booming.
The city was founded in 1839 and had grown wealthy as Texas’ largest natural harbor along the Gulf of Mexico. It was a center of international trade, and one of the state’s largest cities. By 1900, its population had reached 36,000 residents. It was known as the “Ellis Island of the West” and the “Wall Street of the Southwest.” In less than 24 hours, the city was almost completely destroyed.