The Galveston Hurricane of 1900

Milton Elford was a young man living in Galveston with his mother, father and a young nephew, Dwight. Milton was the only one of his family to survive the storm. He described his experience in a letter to his brothers in North Dakota. We join his story as the rising water and intensity of the storm persuade the family to leave their home for a brick house across the street:

"We left our house about 4 o'clock thinking we would be safer in a larger house, not dreaming that even that house would be washed away. We went across the street to a fine large house, built on a brick foundation high off the ground. About 5 it grew worse and began to break up the fence, and the wreckage of other houses was coming against us.

We had arranged that if the house showed signs of breaking up, I would take the lead and Pa would come next, with Dwight and Ma next. In this way I could make a safe place to walk, as we would have to depend on floating debris for rafts.

There were about fifteen or sixteen people in the house. They were confident the house would stand anything; if not for that we would probably have left on rafts before the house went down. We all gathered in one room; all at once the house went from its foundation and the water came in waist-deep, and we all made a break for the door, but could not get it open. We then smashed out the window and I led the way.

I had only got part way out when the house fell on us. I was hit on the head with something and it knocked me out and into the water head first. I could see one man on some wreckage to my left and another on my right. I went back to the door that we could not open. It was broke in, and I could go part way in, as one side of the ceiling was not within four or five feet, I think, of water. There was not a thing in sight.

I then started to leave by partly running and swimming from one lot of debris to another. The street was full of tops and sides of houses and the air was full of flying boards. I think I gained about a block on the debris in this way, and got in the shelter of some buildings, but they were fast going down, and I was afraid of getting buried.

When the water went down about 3 a.m., I was about five blocks from where I started.

...As soon as it was light enough, I went back to the location of the house, and not a sign of it could be found and not a sign any house within two blocks, where before there was scarcely a vacant lot.

Source: The Galveston Hurricane of 1900
"The Galveston Hurricane of 1900" EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2005). Copyright © Ibis Communications, Inc.

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