Case Study: Galveston, Texas

Galveston was an affluent city on the rise. But a massive hurricane that swept ashore on September 8, 1900, devastated much of the island community, killing thousands and altering the city’s future.

Galveston had a population of about 37,000 and was the second richest urban area in the country with third busiest port.

When the Category 4 storm crashed ashore with 120 to 135 mph winds, it destroyed more than three-quarters of Galveston, leveled about 3,600 buildings, and left between 7,000 and 8,000 people dead. Thousands of human and animal corpses littered the island for days.

Clara Barton and the American Red Cross helped with medical aid; the National Guard handled the task of removing the debris and bodies. Donations came in from around the world. Basic services — mail, water, and telegraph — were restored within a week, with electricity returning soon after.

The hurricane forced Galveston officials to plan protection from future storms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supervised the building of a 17-foot high seawall, more than three miles long. It has since been extended another seven miles westward.

The Army Corps of Engineers also raised the entire city an average of 8 feet by pumping 11 million pounds of sand beneath the city.

“Port dredges dug a canal through east end of city,” said Casey Greene of the Rosenberg Library in Galveston. “Buildings were raised and propped up on stilts using jack screws. The dredges brought in slurry [a mixture of sand and water] brought up from eastern end of Galveston island, and discharged the slurry underneath 1-foot-deep dikes. The water ran off, all that was left was sand.”

When another Category 4 hurricane hit the island in 1915, the death toll was only 275. The seawall held the storm surge.

The effects of the hurricane permanently changed the economics of Galveston. Houston became the dominant port city of Texas. Oil was discovered in the area, but because Galveston was still struggling to recover from the 1900 hurricane, the oil companies took their shipping business to Houston.

Source: Case Study: Galveston, Texas
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