This Day In History: Galveston Is Devastated By A Hurricane (1900)

On this day in history in 1900, a hurricane hits the city of Galveston, Texas. The hurricane was the  deadliest in recorded American history.  It is estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people died as a result of the hurricane. The death toll from this disaster was higher than in Hurricane Katrina. The storm caused a  16-foot storm surge that flooded the Texan city, which at this time, the city of Galveston was only situated some nine feet or less above sea level.

The city of Galveston is located on an island in the Gulf of Mexico on a 30-mile strip of land some 50 miles south-east of the Texan capital Houston. The city was originally a Spanish settlement and it was named after a former Spanish governor. The city was incorporated by the Mexican government in the 1830s.  Many experts had long been worried about the potential impact of a hurricane on the city and requested that the city constructed a seawall to protect Galveston. However, many considered this unnecessary and a waste of money. This was to prove a terrible miscalculation.

Galveston was a commercial shipping port and is a popular tourist destination and its beaches, in particular, were much loved. In 1900, Galveston, sometimes known as the Oleander City, was filled with vacationers and day-trippers.  At this time, there was little technology available to predict extreme weather events. However, the US Weather Bureau was concerned about the weather conditions in the area and advised people to move to higher ground and away from the cost because of a possible hurricane. However, these advisories were ignored by many vacationers and the citizens of Galveston.  Many residents and holiday-makers planned to leave the city by train but many of these found that the railway line was washed away when the strom hit.  During the hurricane the city was effectively cut off- the telegraph poles were all blown down.

The dead being removed in Galveston (1900)

The hurricane was unprecedented in its ferocity and the storm surge flooded the city and destroyed much of Galveston. The city had become isolated during the hurricane and this delayed the emergency relief operation, which possibly contributed to the high death toll. The majority of those who died had been drowned or killed by falling debris. Many died trapped under their own homes that had collapsed in the hurricane’s high winds. Ships only reached the devastated city a few hours after the disaster and they provided much-needed supplies and brought relief workers. No one knows to this day how many people actually died in the hurricane. The majority of those who died had to be buried at sea.

The city was almost destroyed and many people lost their homes and businesses. The state and Federal government provided assistance to the stricken city to help it re-build.

After the hurricane, a large seawall was eventually built to protect Galveston from flooding. The city was hit by severe hurricanes in 1961 and 1983, but they did not devastate the city as in 1900.