Remembering the Galveston Hurricane
September 08, 2000
One hundred years ago today, an unnamed hurricane swept across the Gulf of Mexico and obliterated the city of Galveston, Texas. Over 6,000 people died; it was the worst natural disaster in US history. Though of course we don't have satellite images from back then, it probably looked a lot like this picture of Hurricane Andrew, ninety-two years later (GOES-7 and AVHRR composite image).
It's hard to imagine the terror this hurricane caused. Survivors' stories tell of a twenty-foot storm surge that roared over Galveston, which was only eight feet above sea level. People survived by clinging to floating debris. Most hurricane deaths result from storm surges and flooding and not the powerful winds. The Galveston hurricane likely reached a category four on the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, with winds estimated at 135 mph. At the turn of the last century, Galveston was the fourth largest city in the southern US, but when dawn broke on September 9, there was nothing left of the once-prosperous city but a pile of rubble.
After the tragedy of 1900, Galveston residents were determined to protect what remained of their city. They built a 10-mile long seawall, specially designed to dissipate wave energy. They also raised the level of the city by 20 feet - a huge project. In order to do this, each building that survived the hurricane had to be jacked up and filled under with sand.