The city of Galveston is located in the United States, Texas – in its southeastern part, on the island of the same name, which is washed by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In 1900, one of the most famous hurricanes, which was named the Galveston hurricane, in the country’s history occurred, shaking the imagination of Americans. Wind speeds exceeded 200 kilometers per hour. How many lives were lost as a result of the storm has never been precisely established? It is assumed that the Galveston hurricane deaths figure is in the range of 6000-8000 people. City dwellers among them the majority, and the others lived outside the city. More than 3,600 destroyed buildings were counted. The property damage was estimated at $20 million (about $700 million today).
The island was named in the late 18th century after the Spanish colonizer General Bernard de Galvez. A town was founded there in the mid-19th century, and before the 1900 Galveston hurricane at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was one of the wealthiest and largest cities in Texas. The typical blistering heat of the area was comfortably offset by the cool sea breeze. It was a comfortable place to live and to rest.
In addition, the city’s port was one of the three largest in the United States of America at the time. It was the first largest shipper of cotton and the second-largest immigrant port in Europe. Because of this, Galveston prospered. It was the first city in Texas to be electrified and telephoned, and it had its first post office, law office, private bank, opera house, university, and streetcar service.
Since a census was taken shortly before the great Galveston hurricane, the number of residents is known to be 38,000 (including many millionaires – the most in the United States), of whom only 1,000 lived outside the city limits. As an important commercial center, Galveston had the consulates of 19 countries.
The city administration had consulted with meteorologists and citizens long before the tragedy struck on September 8, and decided not to build a sea dike designed to protect against tropical cyclones. In the memory of the locals, there have been many such cyclones, but they never caused much disturbance. Everyone agreed that instead of spending money on a very expensive dam, the money could have been used for something else, something more useful.
Although the approaching tropical cyclone was already known on September 7, traditionally no one took the warnings seriously. Meanwhile, the great storm of 1900 (hurricanes began to be named later) was moving a wall of water toward the island. At first, it seemed to be no big deal, as the northerly wind rose, which was supposed to affect the cyclone coming in from the southeast. It was supposed to be alright, even as the waves began to flood the coastal part of the island and nearby streets. Little by little, the business districts were going underwater, which also didn’t make people too anxious. They were frightened when the pressure, as measured by the barometers, dropped drastically, not boding well. The northerly wind that had been holding back the pressure receded, and the way for the cyclone to reach the island and the city was freed. Water was coming in fast. The citizens of Galveston had to climb higher, then to the attic, then to the roof, in order not to fall prey to the torrents that were rushing in. When the waters of the Gulf of Mexico joined those of the strait, the island was completely underwater and its inhabitants trapped.
The winds of the Galveston storm of 1900 grew stronger and did not stop trying to throw the panicked people off the roofs, who tried to grab onto something, but this did little to help them, and now the air currents were ripping first people off, and then whole houses. They were torn from their foundations, swirled around in the air, and pushed against each other. The storm was merciless. Wind-damaged buildings were washed down and finally destroyed by the torrents of water.
The speed of the wind of the Galveston storm was so great that it effortlessly lifted, twisted, and tossed huge ocean-going ships like fluff. For example, a vessel with a displacement of 4,000 tons was thrown 35 kilometers off the coast. In addition, it reached the coast of the mainland, engulfed, and threw off the rails a whole train.
The nightmare of the worst hurricane ever lasted 8 hours, but even hurricanes are exhausted – before dawn the water from the island began to leave quickly and as morning came, it disappeared from almost all the streets. The wind also disappeared, hurtling southeastward.
The destructive hurricane of the new century escaped oblivion and got a name of its own. It is usually called the Galveston Hurricane, the Texas hurricane 1900 or Hurricane Isaac in honor of meteorologist Isaac Cline. Curiously enough, at that time, as a young professional, he was working at the weather station in the stricken city and was among the opponents of the dam. After losing his pregnant wife because of the accident, he changed his mind and devoted his life to cyclone research, becoming the world’s foremost authority in this field.
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