At the dawn of the twentieth century, Galveston was a thriving, sophisticated community. Its deep-water harbor and port, the only one of its kind in Texas, was the leading exporter of a number of commodities, especially cotton. The booming economy funded fanciful, elaborate architecture, grand social events, and the most up-to-date conveniences available. The oncoming 1900 Storm would change that.
For all its advantages, the island city was in a precarious position. It was extremely vulnerable to the Gulf waters. Before 1900, the highest point of elevation was not quite nine feet above sea level.
Despite the obvious danger, Galvestonians had grown complacent in their city. It had been many years since a severe storm ravaged the city. The rising tides, known locally as “overflows,” provided excitement rather than fear.
The morning of September 8, 1900 dawned with little fanfare in Galveston. Families went about their daily business, paying little attention to the downpours falling over the city. The heavy rains were part of a hurricane, but most Galvestonians were not alarmed. Tropical storms struck regularly, although it had been many years since an intense storm had struck the island city.
The might of this particular storm proved to be dangerous and deadly. By early afternoon, citizens grew nervous about the weather. The tide rose rapidly, and the wind increased at an alarming rate.
By mid-afternoon, much of the city was underwater. From the early evening until midnight, the city of Galveston bore the brunt of the hurricane. It is estimated that winds reached more than 120 mph, with a storm surge of almost sixteen feet, reducing 3,600 structures to rubble. In the neighborhoods located closest to the beach, entire blocks were swept clean.
The following morning, survivors woke to a calm, beautiful sea, giving little evidence of the havoc wrought hours earlier. The damage was massive. Almost every family was touched by the loss of a loved one or friend.
At least 6,000 people perished from a pre-storm population of 37,700. Financial losses were estimated at a staggering $30 million. In terms of loss of life, The 1900 Storm is the worst natural disaster experienced in the United States to date.
This month marks a milestone - the 123rd anniversary of The 1900 Storm. Roughly one in six residents were killed, many of whom survived the storm itself but expired unable to free themselves from the debris. One in four were left homeless and 1,900 acres of developed land were scraped clean by an enraged Gulf.