In Galveston on the rain-darkened and gusty morning of September 8, 1900, the newspaper reported a tropical hurricane prowling the Gulf of Mexico. On the previous day the city’s 38,000 inhabitants had been placed under a storm warning. Galvestonians had been aware of the storm for a few days, when it was reported moving northward over Cuba. However, details were few because of poor communications. Ships at sea, where oncoming hurricanes built strength, had no way of telegraphing weather observations ashore, and other nineteenth-century technical limitations interfered.
Throughout the day the tide crashed farther inland, and the wind steadily increased. A Weather Bureau official drove a horse-drawn cart around low areas warning people to leave. Few people left the city, however, before the bridges from Galveston Island fell. Many people along the beach waited too late to seek shelter in a safer area downtown, away from the Gulf. Houses near the beach began falling first. The storm lifted debris from one row of buildings and hurled it against the next row. Two-thirds of the city was destroyed.
People trying to make their way through wind and water to safety were struck by flying bricks, wood and slate from roofs. The greatest wind speed registered before the anemometer blew away at 5:15 P.M. was an average of eighty-four miles an hour for a five-minute period, but estimates later reached more than 120 miles an hour.
About 6:30 P.M. a storm wave, sweeping ashore in advance of the hurricane's vortex, caused a sudden rise of four feet in water depth. The entire city was soon underwater to a maximum depth of fifteen feet. This storm wave caused much of the damage. By 10:00 P.M. the tide began to fall slowly.
Between 6,000 and 8,000 people in the city of Galveston died, and estimated casualties for the entire island ranged from 10,000 to 12,000. Water and winds had destroyed 2,636 houses. The sixteen ships anchored in the harbor at the time of the storm also suffered extensive damage.
Source: Galveston Hurricane of 1900
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