1900 Galveston Hurricane - Path, Deaths and Name

1900 Galveston Hurricane - Path, Deaths and Name

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On September 8, 1900, a Category 4 hurricane ripped through Galveston, Texas, killing an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people. At the time of the 1900 hurricane, Galveston, nicknamed the Oleander City, was filled with vacationers. Sophisticated weather forecasting technology didn’t exist at the time, but the U.S. Weather Bureau issued warnings telling people to move to higher ground. However, these advisories were ignored by many vacationers and residents alike. A 15-foot storm surge flooded the city, which was then situated at less than 9 feet above sea level, and numerous homes and buildings were destroyed. The hurricane remains the worst weather-related disaster in U.S. history in terms of loss of life.

Galveston, Texas: Background

Galveston, first visited by French and Spanish explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries, is located on Galveston Island, a 29-mile strip of land about two miles off the Texas coast and about 50 miles southeast of Houston. The city, which was named in the late 18th century for the Spanish governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Galvez (1746-86), was incorporated in 1839 and is linked to the mainland by bridges and causeways. Galveston is a commercial shipping port and, with its warm weather and miles of beaches, has also long been a popular resort.

Galveston Hurricane: September 8, 1900

On September 8, a Category 4 hurricane ripped through Galveston, killing an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people. A 15-foot storm surge flooded the city, which was then situated at less than 9 feet above sea level, and numerous homes and buildings were destroyed.

After the hurricane, a large seawall was eventually built to protect Galveston from flooding. The city was pummeled again by major hurricanes in 1961 and 1983, but they caused less damage than the one that struck in 1900.

National Weather Service and Hurricane Names

In 1953, the U.S. National Weather Service, which tracks hurricanes and issues advisories, started giving storms female names in order to help scientists and the public follow them. Beginning in 1979, men’s names were also used. The World Meteorological Organization assigns one name for each letter of the alphabet, with the exception of Q, U and Z. The lists of names are reused every six years; however, when a hurricane is especially deadly or costly its name is retired and a new name is added to the list. In 2006, “Katrina,” along with four other names from the 2005 hurricane season, was taken out of service. Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast states in August 2005, was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

1900 Galveston Hurricane: History, Damage, Impact

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, also known as the Great Galveston Storm, was a powerful Atlantic tropical cyclone that struck the island city of Galveston, Texas, on the night of September 8, 1900. Coming ashore with an estimated strength of a Category 4 hurricane on the modern Saffir–Simpson scale, the storm claimed between 8,000 and 12,000 lives in Galveston Island and nearby mainland towns. Today, the storm remains the deadliest weather-related natural disaster in U.S. history. By comparison, Hurricane Katrina (2005) killed 1,833 and Hurricane Maria (2017) killed nearly 5,000.

Key Takeaways: Galveston Hurricane

  • The Galveston Hurricane was a devastating Category 4 hurricane that struck the island city of Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900.
  • With maximum sustained winds of 145 mph and a 15-foot-deep storm surge, the hurricane killed at least 8,000 people and left another 10,000 homeless.
  • To prevent similar future disasters, Galveston built a massive 17-foot-tall, 10-mile-long concrete seawall.
  • Galveston rebuilt, and despite being struck by several powerful hurricanes since 1900, remains a successful commercial seaport and popular tourist destination.
  • Because of its massive loss of life and property damage, the Galveston Hurricane remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

1900 Galveston Hurricane - Path, Deaths and Name - HISTORY

W hen they awoke on the morning of September 8, 1900, the 38,000 residents of Galveston, Texas were unaware that this day would be their city's last. They had no idea that before the day was done, 8,000 of their fellow citizens would perish with the city. The culprit was a hurricane. The storm swept in off the Gulf of Mexico packing winds up to 135 mph - a category 4 storm in modern terminology. The storm propelled a fifteen-foot surge of water before it easily swamping the 8.7-foot-high island that Galveston called home. Together, the wind and the water destroyed everything in their path and created the worst natural disaster in America's history.

After the Storm
There was little warning and no defense. In the early morning, high tides flooded some of the inland streets. Yet, this was not unusual in a city that barely rose above sea level. Heavy swells began to appear, but the mostly blue sky prompted a confidence that nothing out of the ordinary was about to occur. Most residents reasoned that even if a storm was on its way, they had weathered storms before. As a relative of one victim later recalled: "Mama didn't want to leave. She'd been through it before and wasn't worried. It had never been that bad." However, Galveston had never seen a storm like this one.

By mid-morning rain clouds took over the sky and the wind began to pick up. By mid-afternoon the hurricane hit with an intensity that only increased as darkness descended. The storm made its exit during the early morning hours of the next day the total devastation it left in its wake revealed only with the rising sun. The bodies of the storm's victims littered a landscape strewn with debris in which few buildings remained standing.

The city immediately began the task of clearing up the wreckage and rebuilding. To bolster its defenses, the city actually raised its buildings by as much as 17 feet by pumping sand beneath their foundations. A thick, sturdy seawall was then built along the island's ocean front. But Galveston was never the same once the busiest port in Texas, with the promise of becoming the "New York of the South," the storm convinced shippers to move north to Houston's safer harbor.

". all at once the house went from its foundation and the water came in waist-deep:"

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 sturdier brick house across the street:

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 in the house besides ourselves. 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 do not know how long I was down, as I must have been stunned. I came up and got hold of some wreckage on the other side of the house. 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 went back and got on the other side but no one ever came up that I could see. We must all have gone down the same time, but I cannot tell what they did not come up.

Taking bodies to be burned
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.

Just then, the part I was on started down the street, and I stuck my head and shoulders in an old tool chest that was lying in the debris that I was on. I could hardly hold this down on its side from being blown away, but that is what saved my life again.

When the water went down about 3 a.m., I was about five bocks from where I started. My head was bruised and legs and hands cut a little, which I did not find until Monday and then I could hardly get my hat on.

. 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.

I then went to the city hall to see the chief of police, to get some help to recover the corpses, thinking, I guess, that I was the only one in that fix.

The fireman and others started before noon to bring in corpses they brought them in in wagon loads of about a dozen at a time, laid them down in rows to be identified, and he next day they were badly decomposed, and were loaded on boats and taken to sea only to wash back on the beach. They then started to bury them wherever they were found but yesterday (Wednesday) the corpses were ordered burned. Men started removing the debris and burning it, and when they came upon a corpse it is just thrown on the pile."

Milton Elford's account appears in: Halstead, Murat, Galveston: the Horrors of a Stricken City (1900) Bixell, Patricia, Galveston and the 1900 Storm (2000) Larson, Erick, Isaac's Storm (1999).

1900 Galveston Hurricane

On September 8, 1900, Galveston, Texas, was struck by a category 4 hurricane that decimated the island and killed thousands of people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Great Galveston Hurricane

The day before the hurricane struck, heavy swells were noticed in the Gulf, and by the early morning of the 8th, coastal areas of Galveston had begun to flood. Rain showers started later that morning, with heavy rains beginning by noon. By 3:30 p.m. water covered half the city, and it continued to steadily rise until about 8:30 p.m. In total, the storm surge rose about 15-20 feet, completely submerging the island (which sat just 9 feet above sea level).

In addition to the flood of water, hurricane-velocity winds started around 5 p.m., topping out at an estimated 140 miles per hour and turning debris into deadly projectiles. The storm center passed over around 8:30 p.m., and finally, around 11 p.m., the wind began to subside.

The next morning, survivors discovered the hurricane had left mass devastation in its wake. The lowest estimate of those killed is 6,000, though estimates of 8,000 or 12,000 are also common. More than 3,600 houses (about half of the residence portion of the island) were totally destroyed, with all remaining structures suffering varying levels of damage.

The vast number of dead, combined with the heat and humidity, quickly created a horrible stench across the island. Residents originally tried to bury many of the dead at sea, but when the tide washed the bodies back to shore, they began to burn the bodies instead.

A nationwide relief effort was launched to help Galveston’s devastated population, and in the months and years following the hurricane, Galveston rebuilt.

Learn more about 1900 Galveston Hurricane through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.


Vegetation was uprooted and washed away by the massive storm surge associated with the 1900 storm.

In what has frequently been described as the city&rsquos finest hour, the citizens of Galveston displayed exceptional resiliency and determination. They decided to rebuild and, in so doing, achieved a remarkable feat of civil engineering. The two-fold project called for raising the grade of the entire city and building a seawall to help protect it.

The first challenge was to raise all of the structures with jackscrews. Sewer and gas lines and utilities were also raised. Dikes were then built around sections of the city and sand dredged from Galveston&rsquos ship channel was pumped through a network of pipes as liquid slurry. The water drained, the sand remained, and, within a decade, 500 city blocks had been raised with heights varying from one to up to 11 feet.

First built following the 1900 storm, today the seawall at Galveston provides protection for some parts of the city.

During that same period, engineers were also busy constructing the seawall. Initially, it spanned nearly 50 blocks, providing protection for the heart of the city. The seawall was tested in 1915 when a Category 3 hurricane battered the coast with sustained winds of 120 miles per hour and a 16-foot storm surge. The city sustained serious flooding and while the wall was damaged, it held up, preventing a repeat of the devastation experienced in 1900. The 1915 storm caused limited damage and only six deaths in the city of Galveston. Several hundred homes were destroyed and 42 deaths occurred in unprotected portions of the island.

Additional sections have been added to the seawall over the years. Today, the wall measures 16 feet at the base, rises 17 feet, and spans more than 10 miles of coastline. However, that still leaves two-thirds of the island, and a growing number of its residents, in harm&rsquos way.

The 1900 Galveston Hurricane: The Storm To End All Storms

On Friday, September 7, Galveston was issued a storm warning by the central office of the Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service). As the sun set that evening, large swells were rising in the Gulf, and clouds began to roll in from the north.

The following morning, a single-paragraph story with a headline that read "Storm in the Gulf" appeared in the newspaper, but it did little to cause the citizens much concern. Residents were similarly complacent when Galveston's Weather Bureau raised its hurricane flags. After all, people said, Galveston had survived storms before — it would survive them again.

Nothing in the reporting indicated to them that the Galveston Hurricane would be a different kind of storm — one unlike anything the Gulf Coast had seen before.

Isaac M. Cline, a Weather Bureau official, would later say that he drove his horse-drawn buggy through Galveston's neighborhoods, urging people to seek shelter. Even Cline didn't believe there was cause for serious concern, though, writing in 1891 that "it would be impossible for any cyclone to create a storm wave which could materially injure the city."

He hadn't even supported the failed movement to build a sea wall to protect Galveston from ocean-born storms years earlier. (It should be noted that Cline survived the storm, but his words would haunt him.)

1900 Galveston Hurricane - Path, Deaths and Name - HISTORY

"And lo, along the river's bed
A mighty eygre reared his crest"

The Galveston, Texas
1900 Storm
IMPORTANT: The information and photographs found in this file have been extracted from The Great Galveston Disaster, by Paul Lester. This material now resides in the Public Domain. Interested readers may download this file for personal, non-commercial use only. Archived from http://www.natchezbelle.org/oldtime/1900strm.htm

Ernestine Esquitini Grace has in her possession a large book that lists all the victims' names from the Galveston Hurricane. The list is very lengthy, but she has graciously agreed to do lookups. Send note to:
[email protected]

On September 8, 1900, the island community of Galveston, Texas was hit by a ferocious storm that killed thousands of residents, and nearly flattened the city. The story of the great storm will never be fully told. Words are too weak to express the horror, the awfulness of the storm itself, to even faintly picture the scene of devastation, wreck and ruin, misery, suffering and grief. Even those were were miraculously saved after terrible experiences, were spared to learn that their families and property had been swept away, and spared to witness scenes as horrible as the eye of man ever looked upon - even these cannot tell the story.

There are stories of wonderful rescues and escapes, each of which at another time would be a marvel to the rest of the world, but in a time like this when a storm so intense in his fury, so prolonged in its work of destruction, so wide in his scope, and so infinitely terrible in its consequences has swept and entire city and neighboring towns for miles on either side, the mind cannot comprehend all of the horror, cannot learn or know all of the dreadful particulars.

One stands speechless and powerless to relate even that which he has felt and knows. Gifted writers have told of storms at sea, wrecking of vessels where hundreds were at stake and last. That task pales to insignificance when compared with the task of telling of a storm which threatened the lives of perhaps sixty thousand people, sent to their death perhaps six thousand people, and left thousands others wounded, homeless, and destitute, and still others to cope with grave responsibility, to relieve the stricken, to grapple with and prevent the anarchist's reign, to clear the water-sodden land of putrefying bodies and dead carcasses, to perform tasks that try men's souls and sicken their hearts.

The tidal wave along the Texas coast, brought on by the storm, will rank among the most disastrous events in history.

Dr. H. C. Frankenfeld, forecast official of the Weather Bureau, gave an account of the West India hurricane that traveled through Texas. The first sign of the storm was noticed August 30, 1900, hear the Windward Islands, about latitude 15 degrees north, longitude 63 degrees west. On the morning of August 31 it was still in the same latitude, but had moved westward to about longitude 67 degrees, or about 200 miles south of the island of Porto Rico [sic]. At that time, however, it had not assumed a very definite storm formation.

The storm was central in the Caribbean Sea on the morning of September 1st, evidentially about 200 miles south of Santo Domingo City.

By September 2nd, it has reached a point somewhere to the southwest, and not very far form Jamaica. The morning of September 3rd found it about 175 miles south of the middle of Cuba. It had moved northwestward to latitude 21 degrees and longitude 81 degrees by September 4th. Up to this time the storm had not developed any descriptive force but had caused heavy rains, particularly at Santiago, Cuba, where 12.58 inches of rain fell in 24 hours.

On the morning of the fifth, the storm center had passed over Cuba and had become central between Havana and Key West. High winds occurred over Cuba during the night of the 4th. By the morning of the sixth, the storm center was a short distance northwest of Key West, FL, and the high winds had commenced over Southern Florida, forty-eight miles from the N. E. from Key West. At this time it became a question as to whether the storm would re-curve and pass up along the Atlantic coast, a most natural presumption judging from the barometric conditions over the eastern portion of the US, or whether it would continue northwesterly over the Gulf of Mexico.

Advisory messages were sent as early as September 1st to Key west and the Bahama Islands, giving warning of the approach of the storm. The warning were supplemented by others on the second, third and fourth, giving more detailed information, and were gradually extended along the gulf coast as far as Galveston and the Atlantic coast to Norfolk.

On the morning o of the 7th, the storm was apparently central south of the LA coast. At this time storm signals were ordered up n the North Texas coast, and during the day were extended along the entire coast. On the morning of the eighth the storm was nearing the TX coast, and was apparently central at about latitude 28, longitude 94. The last report received from Galveston, dated 3:40 PM, September 8, showed a barometric pressure of 29.22 inches, with a wind of 42 MPH, northeast, indicating that the center of the storm was close to the city.

At this time the heavy sea from the southeast was constantly rising and already covered the streets of about half the city. Up to Sunday morning, after the storm had passed Galveston, no reports were received from southern TX, but the barometer at Fort Worth gave some indications that the storm was passing into the southern portion of the state. An observation taken at San Antonio at 11 o'clock, but not received until half-past five, indicated that the centre of the storm had then turned in the northward.

Later, Dr. J. T. FRY, who had been an observer of the weather for years, had a theory that the storm which visited Galveston Island originated in the vicinity of Port Eads, and was not the hurricane which was reported on the Florida coast. On Thursday a storm was reported moving in a northeasterly direction from Key West. It moved up the Atlantic coast. The Mallory steamer "Comal" ran into it and reported a great number of wrecks as was reported in the "News" at the time. The supposition that this was the same storm that reached Galveston by doubling back on its tracks is a mistake.

Photos: 60 years ago, Hurricane Audrey became one of the deadliest storms in US history

Carrying victim in bag to morgue from Hurricane Audrey's storm damage.

Shel Hershorn/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Show More Show Less

1957: View of wreckage in the aftermath of Hurricane Audrey, Louisiana.

Shel Hershorn/Getty Images Show More Show Less

Torn community after hurricane Audrey.

Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett Show More Show Less

Father Alvarez L. Gilbert (R) in temporary shelter w. victims of hurricane 'Audrey'.

Shel Hershorn/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images Show More Show Less

Hurricane Audrey's damage while relatives try to identify living survivors.

Shel Hershorn/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Show More Show Less

Hurricane Audrey's damage w. big barge driven ashore by tidal wave.

Shel Hershorn/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Show More Show Less

Crowd at graveside for unidentified seaman killed during Hurricane Audrey.

Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett Show More Show Less

Donald Benoit small boy at refuge shelter during hurricane Audrey trying to wake up his brother.

Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett Show More Show Less

1957: An elderly woman in an apron and bonnet stands in front of a house, which was hit by a boat when Hurricane Audrey struck Louisiana.

Shel Hershorn/Getty Images Show More Show Less

Dead cattle litter the streets of Cameron, Louisiana, July 1st, hampering clean-up operations after a tidal wave destroyed the town. The death toll caused by Hurricane Audrey was rising steadily.

A long trench holds coffins of unidentified victims of Hurricane Audrey. The storm killed almost 400 people in 1957. | Location: Combre Cemetery, Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA.

Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images Show More Show Less

Victim lying in field in receded waters after hurricane Audrey.

Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett Show More Show Less

22 of 51 1900 Galveston hurricane

23 of 51 1900 Galveston hurricane

25 of 51 1900 Galveston hurricane

26 of 51 1900 Galveston hurricane

28 of 51 1915 Galveston hurricane

29 of 51 Hurricane Audrey, 1957

31 of 51 Hurricane Carla, 1961

32 of 51 September 10, 1961 – Forty-six people were killed when Hurricane Carla makes landfall. Potentially more deaths were averted by one of the largest evacuations in history. Grey Villet/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image Show More Show Less

34 of 51 Hurricane Celia, 1970

35 of 51 Tropical Storm Allison, 2001

Allison couldn't make up its mind where to make landfall. The storm stalled several times, dumping extra rain--up to 40 inches in some places--on an already-drenched Texas coast. Nearly 30,000 were displaced from their homes. The Texas Medical Center was particularly hard hit y flooding.

37 of 51 Flood waters block a freeway interchange north of downtown Houston after rains from Tropical Storm Allison dumped an estimated 28 inches of rain on the area. Houston Chronicle photo by Dave Einsel via Associated Press Show More Show Less

38 of 51 Hurricane Rita, 2005

40 of 51 Shrimping ships on Fisherman's Warf in Sabine Pass remain smashed into one another on Saturday, October 8, 2005. (AP Photo/The Beaumont Enterprise, Mark M. Hancock) Mark M. Hancock/Staff Photographer Show More Show Less

41 of 51 Hurricane Ike, 2008

43 of 51 With the Gulf of Mexico seen at right, a beachfront home stands among the debris in Gilchrist, Texas on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008 after Hurricane Ike hit the area. Ike was the first major storm to directly hit a major U.S. metro area since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool) David J. Phillip/POOL Show More Show Less

46 of 51 Hurricane Wilma, 2005

47 of 51 Hurricane Charley, 2004

49 of 51 Hurricane Hugo, 1989

50 of 51 Hurricane Frances, 2004

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of Hurricane Audrey, among the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

The Category 4 storm made landfall in late June 1957 and ravaged the Gulf Coast, claiming upwards of 500 lives, according to the National Weather Service. However, the agency says that the storm's surge is believed to have caused even more casualties than these records indicate.

"The high number of deaths were attributed to the storm moving ashore earlier and stronger than originally predicted and in a decade where all radio and TV stations signed off the air in the evening, leaving no form of communication to warn the public to evacuate the coast sooner," a report from KPLC explains.

"Hurricane Audrey will be a storm that residents of Southwest Louisiana will always remember, as many in the area still know of family members that were lost or affected by the storm in some way."

Audrey's surge is predicted to have reached 12 feet and caused severe damage further inland.

The storm formed two days before it hit land, at which point its devastating impact could already by felt by offshore drilling operations in the area. It's estimated that the oil facility disruption caused roughly $16 million worth of damage to the region's most prominent industry.

Other economic destruction could be seen on infrastructure stretching from Texas to Louisiana. Property damage and power outages affected thousands.

Hurricane Audrey's destruction has not been forgotten. A mass grave still exists at a plot in Lake Charles, where 31 unidentified bodies remain six decades after the hurricane.

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