GALVESTON, Texas - Today marks the somber anniversary of the Great Galveston Hurricane. The category 4 hurricane made landfall 117 years ago today, taking the lives of at least 6,000 people and leaving another 10,000 homeless.
Isaac Cline, the local forecast Official at the Galveston office of the U.S. Weather Bureau, tried to warn residents of Galveston hours before the hurricane hit, but for many it was too late.
He wrote this harrowing account of his personal experience during the deadly hurricane:
"Among the lost was my wife, who never rose above the water after the wreck of the building. I was nearly drowned and became unconscious, but recovered through being crushed by timbers and found myself clinging to my youngest child, who had gone down with myself and wife. Mr. J. L. Cline joined me five minutes later with my other two children, and with them and a woman and child we picked up from the raging waters, we drifted for three hours, landing 300 yards from where we started. There were two hours that we did not see a house nor any person, and from the swell we inferred that we were drifting to sea, which, in view of the northeast wind then blowing, was more than probable. During the last hour that we were drifting, which was with southeast and south winds, the wreckage on which we were floating knocked several residences to pieces. When we landed about 11:30 p.m., by climbing over floating debris to a residence on Twenty-eighth street and Avenue P, the water had fallen about 4 feet. It continued falling, and on the following morning the Gulf was nearly normal. While we were drifting we had to protect ourselves from the flying timbers by holding planks between us and the wind, and with this protection we were frequently knocked great distances. Many persons were killed on top of the drifting debris by flying timbers after they had escaped from their wrecked homes. In order to keep on the top of the floating masses of wrecked buildings one had to be constantly on the lookout and continually climbing from drift to drift. Hundreds of people had similar experiences."
"Sunday, September 9, 1900, revealed one of the most horrible sights that ever a civilized people looked upon. About three thousand homes, nearly half the residence portion of Galveston, had been completely swept out of existence, and probably more than six thousand persons had passed from life to death during that dreadful night. The correct number of those who perished will probably never be known, for many entire families are missing."
He added this in a special report published for the September, 1900 edition of the Monthly Weather Review:
"I believe that a sea wall, which would have broken the swells, would have saved much loss of both life and property. I base this view upon observations which I have made in the extreme northeastern portion of the city, which is practically protected by the south jetty; this part of the city did not suffer more than half the damage that other similarly located districts, without protection, sustained."
Great Storm of 1900 in Galveston
And that's exactly what the survivors did. They raised the city and built a sea wall that stands to this day as the main line of defense against approaching hurricanes.
Family members of the survivors today recall the stories of death and horror. Annita Smith McGinnes wrote, "My grandparents lived through this. Granny talked about watching her father helping with the cleanup of bodies and seeing men chewing off fingers to get the rings. They survived by hanging onto a floating grand piano. Their home was destroyed but their neighbors house survived but floated a block away. They eventually crossed the bay to the mainland to stay with relatives."
Film of damage from 1900 storm in Galveston
"My great grandmother Webb survived that hurricane in Galveston," wrote Chelsea Ann Porter. "She was a little girl then. She survived by floating on something and saw a pretty piece of fabric. She grabbed it out the water only to find out it was her little sister. She died. It was a horribly scary to hear when you're a kid."
"My grandfather (who was already 64 when my mom was born in 1941) worked for the railroad... The rail workers were sent to dispose of the bodies not washed out to sea already," wrote Brenda Will. "They tried to give some sea burials but they washed back up.... The stories my mother knew were insane... We cannot even begin to understand the horror they faced..."
"My greatgranny survived this storm but ended up with hearing loss," recalled Pat Lowery Segura. "She had arrived from Sweden not long before this event and worked as a cook. Her soon to be husband, a fireman in a boat rescued her. Story goes she was in a tree near Sacred Heart church. She stayed in Galveston, hsd her children there, and I'm third generation BOI."
Film of storm damage from 1900 storm in Galveston
Others were fortunate. Reynolds Cushman writes, "My grandfather was 7 at the time, and his family was on the mainland temporarily for the birth of a sibling in Houston, fortuitously missing this unprecedented catastrophe. Surely they would have all perished. He cherished Galveston, however, and at 100 added dying on the Island to his BOI."