The Galveston Hurricane (Great Disasters, Reforms and Ramifications)
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Disposing of the numerous dead and removing the mountains of debris presented staggering challenges. The people of the island scraped by with help from donations from around the world and thanks to the administrative skills of Clara Barton, president of the American National Red Cross. After they had dealt with the worst horrors the storm had visited on Galveston, city leaders sought to protect the island from future hurricanes. Galveston is a barrier island about two miles out from the Gulf coast of Texas.
It is essentially a sandbar 32 miles long and between 1. An explorer commissioned by Bernardo de Galvez named it in his honor. Galveston Island had been inhabited long before Spain laid claim to it, however.
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During the s, the Karankawa tribe fished and camped on its beaches. In , a pirate baron name Jean Lafitte renamed the island Campeche and ran a thriving slave market in his adopted home base. Campeche literally went down in flames when Lafitte burned his gambling establishments and slave compound after being driven off Galveston Island for attacking an American ship. Texas did not officially become part of the United States until December 29, it became an independent republic, however, in , after the American defeat of Mexico which, since becoming independent of Spain, had control of Texas.
Galveston Island served as an important U.
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In , a French-Canadian investor named Michel B. Menard purchased a seven square mile area from Texas to found the city of Galveston. They incorporated the city of Galveston in The harbor soon came to bustling life, with ships from around the world importing goods like coffee and bananas, and exporting cotton on a grand scale. Galveston was also an official point of entry into the United States, giving the city an ethnically diverse population and a rich labor pool. After the war, however, Galveston became the first city in Texas to achieve numerous milestones of modernization.
During the Civil War, Union forces block -aded the harbor to cut off Confederate lines of supply. The city beat Houston in the race to become the first city in Texas equipped with electric lights and telephone service Galveston was not only the first Texas city to have electric lights and telephone service; the island was also first to establish a post office, a military base Fort Crockett , and grocery stores.
The most reckless indulged in gambling and visited prostitutes—both of which were readily available on the island. Galveston at the turn of the twentieth century may have been the best of both worlds: a modern, wellappointed southern city that was still isolated from the rest of Texas. Here, people could try to live their dreams without too much fear of censure. Leisure time in Galveston could mean taking in a concert, play, or opera.
It might also just as easily mean watching bicycle races at the velodrome bicycle race track or visiting a beer garden. The city was a premier exporter of cotton. Black and white dockworkers toiled together—albeit in separate labor unions. Travelers arriving by ship saw the city as a silvery fairy kingdom that might just as suddenly disappear from sight, a very different portrait from that which would present itself in the last few weeks of September , when inbound passengers smelled the pyres of burning corpses a hundred miles out to sea.
Galveston Island was all sand and low, marshy ground. The surf rushed into the streets during storms with an almost boring regularity. The predictability of this flooding may have contributed to thousands of deaths: after all, many islanders assumed the creeping tide that they observed early on Saturday, September 8, was just more of the same. Galveston could have taken a page from the sad story of Indianola, once a thriving port city on Matagorda Bay, miles from Galveston.
The residents rebuilt and restored Indianola to business as usual— until That year, a second hurricane sent water surging over the city. The fact that Indianola was built behind a small line of barrier islands that protected it to some small degree is a testament to the severity of both the first and second storms.
Galveston Hurricane by Kristine Brennan
The storm took an even greater toll on Indianola than the first one had, prompting survivors to abandon the town once and for all. Just weeks after the final destruction of Indianola in , a group of Galvestonians made plans to construct a protective wall around the city to spare it from the same fate. Galveston did not take the tragedy of Indianola seriously enough until it was too late.
It was already too late for Galveston on Tuesday, September 5, That day a tropical disturbance was pummeling Cuba with wind and rain. The U. Weather Bureau saw no reason to alarm the residents of the Gulf coast of Texas prematurely. Indeed, the head of the U. Weather Bureau discounted the warnings of Cuban forecasters who maintained that the storm passing over Cuba and Florida was indeed a hurricane—and that it would head for Texas.
See a Problem?
After it happened, the U. Weather Bureau. At its helm was Isaac Monroe Cline. A physician by training, Dr. Cline was a pioneer in the field of medical climatology, the study of how weather conditions affect the human body. At the time of the storm, he and his wife, Cora May, had three daughters and were expecting a fourth child. The Clines lived at Avenue Q, which was three blocks from the beach on the Gulf side of Galveston. The house he lived in at the time of the storm had been built in Isaac believed he had made sure that his dwelling was engineered to withstand rough coastal weather.
His younger brother and assistant, Joseph L. Cline, also lived in the house. John Blagden, a third weather observer, was temporarily assigned to Galveston; his usual territory was Memphis, Tennessee. Blagden would have the dubious honor of riding out the hurricane in the weather station as it teetered precariously in the wind. On Friday, September 7, the men hoisted a red flag emblazoned with a black square atop the weather station; this flag was a signal warning Galveston of an impending storm. Although they knew that rough weather was on its way, they were unable to accurately estimate its magnitude.
A Rude Awakening This lithograph shows the magnitude of destruction leveled on Galveston by the hurricane of September 8, The powerful storm surge fully engulfed the city, crushing homes to splinters and killing thousands of residents. He ventured onto the beach near his home at around A. He noted that the barometer an instrument used to determine the pressure of the atmosphere was not dropping rapidly, as might be expected prior to a devastating storm. He estimated the wind to be blowing at 15 to 17 miles per hour.
He wrote: I warned the people that great danger threatened them, and advised some 6, persons, from the interior of the State, who were summering along the beach to go home immediately. I warned persons residing within three blocks of the beach to move to the higher portions of the city, that their houses would be undermined by the ebb and flow of the increasing storm tide and would be washed away. Cline gave himself ample credit for his efforts. But Erik Larson says that no other accounts of the storm mention Isaac Cline riding along the shoreline and warning beachgoers. If he did in fact hitch up his horse and warn the public, Isaac Cline did so in direct defiance of the U.
After the storm, however, Willis Moore, chief of the U. Joseph Cline believed that Isaac should call for an evacuation of Galveston. Prior to this cataclysmic storm, which would knock his house into the sea, Isaac Monroe Cline did not believe Galveston was vulnerable to severe hurricanes. A hurricane is a tropical cyclone with winds exceeding 74 miles per hour, that circulate around a center of low atmospheric pressure the eye in a counterclockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere. The winds of a cyclone blow clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. They form from groups of thunderstorms over warm ocean waters.
These blocks of thunderstorms require water vapor from warm ocean waters and warm, humid air to mature into hurricanes. As thunderstorms start grouping together, they form a tropical depression, a precursor to a hurricane. At this early stage, however, the cyclone does not have too much noticeable rotation.
The Growing Costs of Natural Disasters
As the winds gain speed from the moisture of the warm surface water, the cyclone intensifies into a tropical storm winds miles per hour. As cool, more organized and faster winds push warm, vapor-saturated air upward, a counterclockwise whirlpool of air forms around a center of low pressure about miles in diameter.
Even if a cyclone dissipates before wind speeds increase to hurricane force 74 miles per hour or more , a tropical storm can be very dangerous when it makes landfall because the heavy rains it brings can cause floods and mudslides. Hurricanes also carry heavy rains, but rain is not their deadliest weapon. The greatest danger to life and property posed by a hurricane is its storm surge.
Storm tide is the total height of water flooding a coastal area; it is the combination of storm surge and the regular tide. Many of the houses destroyed during the Galveston Hurricane of would have withstood the winds alone: it was repeated battering by the storm tide that toppled them into the sea. With its warm Gulf waters, Galveston Island—just a sandbar, really—was a prime breeding ground for hurricanes during the month of September.
American forecasters, on the other hand, were convinced that a cyclone could only travel north: they predicted that the cyclone would affect the MidAtlantic states and leave Texas with little more than blustery rain.
Great Storm of 1900 brought winds of change
Weather Bureau did have a station in Cuba that operated under the authority of the War Department, but the forecasters there were firmly convinced that the hurricane could not possibly hit Galveston. In August of , the U. So completely did America miss out on the benefits of Cuban meteorology that after the Galveston Hurricane had laid waste to a large segment of Texas, U.
Weather Bureau officials refused to believe that this storm was the same one that had passed over Cuba and Florida. They stubbornly insisted that it was an entirely separate cyclone! It was against this backdrop of ignorance and denial that Dr. Cline began to feel uneasy on September 8. While Isaac made his alleged ride along the beach, Joseph Cline and John Blagden manned the phones at the weather station.
Not everyone in the general public was unaware of the seriousness of the situation before noon on September 8, though.