The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on September 9, 2000 · Page 8
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · Page 8

Los Angeles, California
Issue Date:
Saturday, September 9, 2000
Page 8
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A8 1 ' SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2000 NA LOS ANGELES TIMES THE NATION STORM: Continued from Al a marathon observance of what's called, simply, the Great Storm. "Not a single building on the island was left undamaged," said Alice Wygant, spokeswoman for the Galveston Historical Foundation. "It was the stupidest place in the world to build a city. The highest point on the island was 8.7 feet above sea level." So traumatic was the experience that those who lived through the storm often couldn't bear to discuss it. On the disaster's 50th anniversary, the Galveston Daily News mustered only one line commemorating the event that changed the city's destiny. But now, with a century to cushion the horror, the people of Galveston along with weather buffs and historians from around the world are gathering to observe the storm's 100th anniversary and to ponder its legacy. For the first time, many are learning that it was a mix of weather, scientific error, late 19th century world view and millennial technology that all converged to change the city's fate. Few Locals Worried About Storm Season Sept. 8, 1900, was high hurricane season for Galveston, but few locals were worried. The city was rich and striving, fiercely in contest with Houston, 45 miles to the north, for Texas dominance. Galveston boasted the state's only deep water port, the country's biggest trading site for cotton, and a sophisticated, party-loving merchant class that had the first electricity and telephones in all of Texas. And although they weathered hurricanes routinely, they thought geography inured them from disaster. In 1891, Texas Weather Bureau Chief Isaac Cline had declared in a newspaper that the shallow water around Galveston shielded it from major storms. At the cusp of a new century, the opinions of the dandyish, mustachioed young Cline held the weight of solid fact, writes author Eric Larson in his 1999 bestseller, "Isaac's Storm." Although without modern tools such as radar, Cline was a distinguished meteorologist, embodying the era's belief that science could master the elements. But then a Florida storm defied Cline's predictions, turning PREGNANT: Sect Member's Case Continued from Al die like my brother Jeremiah did,' " District Court Judge Kenneth Nasif said. The case in Attleboro, Mass., near the Rhode Island border, appears to be without precedent, legal analysts say. And while Cor-neau herself eschews legal counsel, her situation has attracted a bandwagon of supporters who criticize the confinement as a violation of her civil rights. Others side with Nasif and prosecutor Paul Walsh, who contend . the moral urgency of protecting this fetus outweighs the "technical, legal, right-or-wrong" issue of Corneau's privileges. She has refused a medical exam and declined to see the nurse Nasif ordered to visit her. In court, Corneau stands alone and answers in polite monosyllables. The judge has appointed an attorney to represent "Unborn Child Corneau," as the fetus is described. Corneau is a member of a 13-member band of believers that takes its doctrine from the Old Testament and the Home in Zion Ministries in Florida. The group views science and medicine as blasphemy and denies the existence of the United States. In addition, the sect denounces education, government, banking and entertainment. The group supports itself through a masonry business. The nameless sect is the subject of a grand jury probe into the 1999 deaths of Jeremiah Corneau, who is alleged to have died during or shortly after birth, and 10-month old Samuel Robidoux son of the group's leader who allegedly starved to death after he stopped nursing. Authorities allege the group buried two small coffins in a Maine state park last summer. Officials have searched unsuccessfully for the bodies in three disparate locations. Prosecutors are seeking charges against sect members ranging from improper disposal of a body to murder. Eight members of the group have been jailed for refusing to talk to the Bristol County Grand Jury. Corneau's three remaining children and five others have been removed from the group and Galveston toward Galveston, and the wafer-flat city was swamped beneath the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. By 7:30 p.m., winds topped 120 miles an hour. A tidal surge as high as 15.7 feet engulfed the city. The monstrous waves drove houses near the water inland, smashing down the structures in their path. Residents hacked holes into their floors, hoping to stabilize their piered nouses, but thousands of buildings filled slowly with seawater, then collapsed. At St. Mary's Orphans Asylum, 10 nuns lashed themselves to 93 small children as the water seeped up to their second-story refuge. Finally it swallowed them, drowning all except three boys who scrambled free and swam away. The rest were swept to shore and buried under tons of ocean-swept sand. 'Dead, Dead, Dead, Dead Everywhere' Convinced the storm would ebb, Cline stayed with his family in their two-story house. Before it toppled, his two oldest girls leaped out with an uncle, and Cline and his youngest daughter followed shortly after. But his pregnant wife was pulled under and drowned. Hours later, according to Larson, the surviving relatives were floating on an unhinged door, when the family retriever saw them and swam aboard. The dog sniffed each person, seemed to realize that Cline's wife was gone, and plunged back in the water, apparently to find her. The retriever was never seen again. When the storm finally calmed at midnight, the island was afloat with corpses, moaning victims and shattered buildings. "Dead, dead, dead, dead everywhere," the Daily Times Herald of Dallas wrote Sept. 13, after the water had receded. "The bodies of human beings, infants, aged and carcasses of animals are strewn on every hand The bay is alive with them." But if the storm was otherworldly in its horror, the aftermath was epic in another way. Under martial law, all able-bodied men were forced to work. Coerced at gunpoint, 50 men filled barges with corpses; after each load, the workers were given dippers of whiskey. But the bodies, fixed with weights and dropped at sea, , - -I . VV 0 Associated Press The case of Rebecca Corneau, center, has raised concerns about religious freedom and the right to privacy. placed in foster care. In the course of those proceedings, Corneau was declared an unfit mother. Massachusetts authorities say the case may be the first example of an apparently healthy pregnant woman who has not been convicted of a crime or drug abuse being forced into custody to protect an unborn child. Walsh, the prosecutor, explained his reasoning: "We have two dead babies. I don't want another dead baby." Andi Mullin, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women, acknowledged that in trying to prevent an infant death, state authorities probably acted out of noble intentions. "But the implications of this action are alarming," she said. "Are we going to start incarcerating Remembers 1900 Hurricane Tragedy swept back ashore, so vast funeral pyres were built on shore instead. They burned for two months straight, filling the air with nauseating fumes. Thousands of survivors fled the city for good. Those who stayed behind began rebuilding within days. With funds from local and federal governments and businesses, engineers began to ' raise the island's buildings, filling in the space beneath with 16 million cubic yards of sand. By 1911, 500 city blocks had been lifted as much as 11 feet. The city also built a sea wall a gargantuan task that took 60 years to reach its current length of more than 10 miles. But the city the survivors wrenched back was a very different place. It wasn't just the hurricane that made it so, but the 20th century itself. Within a decade, technology to build deep water ports had brought a rival port to Houston. The cotton trade began to dwindle; oil was struck at Spindletop, near Houston, within a year of the hurricane. The island's limited space soon seemed antiquated by the sprawl of mainland cities. What Galveston retained and finally grew to value was its 19th century nature, former Mayor Barbara Crews says. Although it contends with a shortage of jobs and affordable housing, the city's air of battered gentility attracts swarms of Houston visitors each weekend. Storm Anniversary Celebrates Survival The Strand district once called the Wall Street of the West now houses antique shops and a yearly Dickens pageant. Tour guides lead visitors through refurbished mansions, weaving ghost stories that rival those of New Orleans. Typical of a city once famed for its sparkling society, Galveston this year has fashioned the storm anniversary into a celebration of survival, including films, parties and a specially commissioned dance concert, along with somber memorials for the dead. "Galveston has a lot of celebrationsit's one thing we're very good at," Crews says. "We have good parties, we have good Mardi Gras, we celebrate the openings of hotels and buildings." The city wants the Great Storm which came before the J f A A- IV- v0 pregnant women for smoking? Skiing? Skateboarding? Do we lock them up at 8V months? Three months? One month?" She decried the irony of "forcing prenatal care on this woman who did not want it and has a right not to have it when there are women and children in this state and elsewhere who are literally dying for health care. "There are no judges ordering doctors and nurses into the homes of the working poor and providing them with the care they need. Instead, we're forcing it on this woman who doesn't want it." Boston reproductive rights lawyer Wendy Murphy was so outraged by the Corneau decision that she filed a request Wednesday for review with the Supreme Judicial Court, the highest court Four houses remain standing after the 1900 hurricane, above. The storm obliterated the 10 streets between . these houses and the Gulf Coast, in the background. The residences still stand today on Sealy Street, right. tradition of naming hurricanes even began to take its place in the public mind alongside better-known modern hurricanes such as Camille, Andrew and Floyd. Memorial Statue to Be Dedicated The city held a memorial service Friday for the hurricane victims, hosted by CBS anchorman Dan Rather. A former Texas newsman, Rather first gained national attention covering Hurricane Carta on the Gulf Coast in 1961. Today, Galveston's first storm memorial statue will be dedicated along the sea wall. On Sunday, the public library will hold a reading of a new book, "Through a Night of Horrors," edited by Shelly Henley Kelly and Casey Edward Greene. Is a Rights in Massachusetts. Claiming that women's rights are "chilled and threatened" by Nasif's ruling, Murphy entered her request on behalf of a woman identified only as Barbara F who is six months pregnant. Murphy's petition said the woman is concerned that she too could be forced into custody. Murphy has no relationship with Corneau. "She's not my client, she doesn't want a lawyer and Authorities allege the group buried two small coffins in a Maine state park last summer. They have searched unsuccessfully for the bodies. she has a perfect right not to have one," Murphy said. "My interest was that I thought the ruling was so patently unconstitutional, coupled with the public comments from the district attorney, who said, essentially, the constitutional issues were interesting, but let's talk about those after we have a healthy baby. That's like shoot now, ask questions later." A mother of four, Murphy remembered climbing a ladder and hanging shutters when she was nine months pregnant. "God help me if someone told Paul Walsh," she said, adding that, "What people don't appreciate is how simple the notion is of what's at stake: Women have the right to make choices about medical care for their bodies, and they have that right when they are pregnant." Sarah Wunsch, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, agrees, and had filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Corneau. "When a woman becomes pregnant," Wunsch said, "she does not give up her constitutional rights to privacy and bodily integrity." The concerns about the Corneau case have legal precedent. In 1983, Massachusetts' highest court overturned a lower court's order to have a pregnant woman's cervix sewn up against her will to prevent a miscarriage. A state m 1 9li i"u 4 ill ; .J IKS II MMMH V The expansive commemoration has earned praise from many longtime residents, many of whom heard about the storm in grade school but are fascinated by the details they're hearing now. "I didn't really think about it until I started hearing about it on TV," said secretary Lesia Tower, unwinding on the porch of her weathered wooden house. Across Quandary trial court in 1990 found it unconstitutional to penalize a woman for using drugs during pregnancy. The same year, a Washington, D.C., court overturned a lower court's order of a caesarean section against a woman's will. Fetal rights is an evolving legal area, and laws vary from state to state. Wisconsin and South Dakota are among states where pregnant women who abuse drugs or alcohol may be detained in hospitals or elsewhere. In Wisconsin, an exposed fetus is placed under the jurisdiction of Juvenile Court the same venue where Corneau's case has been heard. Jetta Bernier, executive director for Massachusetts Citizens for the Children, lauded the action here. Limiting Corneau's rights "for a period of a few weeks seems far less disturbing than denying her child's basic right to be born in a safe and protective setting," she said. Still, Lynn Paltrow, director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women in New York, said "the fact that it could get this far and we could have a judicial ruling based on what in another circumstance might be considered an auditory hallucination is testament to how contested a pregnant woman's right to bodily integrity is." Making a legal decision in favor of a fetus, Paltrow said, "erases the woman altogether." Walsh said he is puzzled by such arguments. "The only thing I was interested in is what's best for that baby," he said. "How this becomes actionable on behalf of all women is bizarre." A Boston Globe editorial concurred, observing: "This is one case, about one woman, caught up in a tragic set of circumstances that continue to threaten the life of the child she is carrying. This isn't some slippery slope on the way to erasing women's rights." With Corneau expected to deliver any day in a facility for pregnant inmates, the immediate questions may become momentarily moot. But not for long. Another member of Corneau's sect is midway through a pregnancy of her own. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Walsh said. Associated PressRosenberg Library f' Associated Press the street, a spectacularly redone Victorian bears a newly installed plaque proclaiming it a 1900 storm survivor. Now, Tower said, the hurricane has her hooked. She is popping in the library at lunchtime, reading 1900s newspapers. "Now I've got a chance to learn about it,", Tower said. "What it was. How bad it was." U.S. Literacy Rates Among West's Highest, Study Finds ByDUKEHELFAND TIMES STAFF WRITER The United States ranks among the most literate nations in the Western world, surpassed only by three Scandinavian countries, Canada and the Netherlands, according to a survey released Friday. At the same time, a high percentage of older Americans lack even rudimentary skills to read the instructions on a bottle of medicine, the study showed. Finland, Norway and Sweden-home to relatively homogeneous populations led the pack among adults ages 26 to 65. Sweden took top honors. The United States ranked "significantly above average" among the 22 countries that participated in the four-year study, which was funded principally by the U.S. Department of Education. The United States was at the top of a cluster of countries that included Germany, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. Poland, Slovenia, Chile and Portugal landed at the bottom. The survey's main author attributed the above-average showing to the comparative quality of high school and college education in the United States. Swedish education professor Albert Tuijnman said the competitive American labor market also plays a role by attracting "the best and the brightest" immigrants and by prompting workers to improve their skills. The survey also revealed that 20 of Americans between 45 and 65 cannot read the instructions on a medicine bottle. By comparison, 12 of Swedes lack those, skills, as do 69 of Chileans. More than 75,000 people, ages 16 to 65, were interviewed and tested in their homes between 1994 and 1998 for the study, known as the International Adult Literacy Survey. The same tests were translated and administered in 22 countries.

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