The hurricane of 1900, in terms of human life, remains the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.
Galveston's leaders took several major steps to recover from the storm and to prevent a recurrence of the devastation. First, they developed a new form of municipal government, one with strong centralized control to handle the economic recovery of the city. Next, they built a massive seawall to for protection from storm-generated waves. And they raised the level of the entire city by more than 16 feet in some areas, to reduce future flooding.
After the Storm
When the wind and rain stopped and the water receded, bodies lay everywhere. Huge piles of rubble covered the city. Structures in two-thirds of the city were totally destroyed. Most remaining buildings were badly damaged.
The American Red Cross arrived on Sept. 17 with workers to distribute food and clothing. Donations poured in from cities around the United States and several foreign countries.
Along with taking care of the immediate needs of clean-up, restoration of utilities, and feeding, clothing, and sheltering the survivors of the storm, the Central Relief Committee paid for the building and restoration of many houses.
A New Form of Municipal Government
Residents had been unhappy with Galveston's municipal government for some years. The sitting government was guilty of procrastination. Monetary irregularities were uncovered. Galveston's financial situation was bleak.
City leaders proposed a commission. Eventually the legislature required that all commissioners be elected, not appointed. Galveston kept the commission form of city government, with modifications, until 1960.
Construction of the Seawall
The seawall was built in 50-foot interlocking sections. When finished, it stood 17 feet above mean low tide, 15 feet thick at the base, and three-and-one-half miles long. A brick drive extended about 100 feet inland from the top.
Today the wall is 10.4 miles long.
Lifting an Entire City
The work to lift the city began in 1903 and was done in quarter-mile-square sections, each about 16 city blocks in size. Each section in turn was enclosed in a dike.
In addition to structures, sewers, water and gas lines, fire hydrants and telephone poles had to be lifted. Fences, sidewalks, and outbuildings also had to be repositioned.
When the job was finished in 1910, sand had been used to raise 500 city blocks from a few inches to more than 16 feet above sea level.
Source: Galveston's Response to the Hurricane of 1900
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