The deadliest hurricane in U.S. history struck one of the nations busiest ports, Galveston, in Texas, in the summer of 1900. Four days prior to the catastrophic disaster that devastated Galveston island, U.S. Weather Bureau sent out warnings of a ‘tropical storm’ moving northwards over Cuba. With forecasters having no way of knowing the storms projected direction, the first of many mistakes were made, when they assumed it would travel to the northeast of America. Even when Cuban forecasters advised the U.S. Weather Bureau that the ‘storm’ was in fact heading westwards towards Texas, as a much larger storm than predicted, the Weather Bureau was still unwilling to act appropriately. Eventually when the Weather Bureau had no choice but to upgrade the storm as a hurricane, it was all but too late. When the first of the strong winds and swells hit Galveston on the morning of the 8th September 1900, summer vacationers and residents of Galveston were trapped on the island. Any attempts of a mass evacuation were all but lost in the days prior to the 8th because of poor communication between authorities.
It was late in the day that panic and fear truly gripped Galveston, when the force of a Category 4 hurricane, boasting 145 mph winds eventually hit, towing with it a massive 15-foot storm surge that complete devastated the entire island. At least 6,000 people were killed, with tens of thousands made homeless. An estimated 3,500 buildings were also destroyed.
In the wake of the disaster, one of the criticisms levelled at the weather bureau was its inept ability to predict the storm’s trajectory. In the years that followed the Weather Bureau would take measures to improve its role and policies to protect people from life-threatening weather circumstances such as hurricanes. As for Galveston, it would never fully recover its status as one of the nations busiest ports, with investors instead focusing their attention to the discovery of the rich oil lands of Houston. One of the single best reminders today of the tragedy at Galveston is the sea wall that was begun in 1902 to protect the city. Interestingly, in August 1915, the sea wall helped save the city from another disaster. If success is measured by fatalities, only an estimated eleven people were killed.