Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida on May 28, 2000 · 12
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Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida · 12

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St. Petersburg, Florida
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Sunday, May 28, 2000
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12
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TIMES D SUNDAY, MAY 28, 2000 1 3A S 1 2A TIMES H SUNDAY, MAY 28, 2000 i I v. "t,rv , ' S-T"- ' mn"""'"mm Galveston from 1A some with people clinging to liicm poked through angry waves. The surge lifted buildings off foundations. Some collapsed immediately, tossing their occupants into the torrent; some floated miles away before breaking up. At least 6,000 people died. Local historians put the number much higher 8,000 to 9,000, perhaps even 12,000. No one knows for certain; the sea didn't return all her victims. Years later, with die nightmare far behind him, Will Murney would tell his son that the details of that night were blurred. But he would never forget holding tight to his young brother for as long as he could, until the roof fell in, until he was struck by a large timber. Will awoke hours later, lodged in die branches of a tree with two other boys. Joe was gone. In shock, the three boys walked back to town, now die scene of die great est natural disaster in their nation's history. Where's ths storm? No geosynclironous weather satellite peered down from high above the equator at the beginning of the 20th century, watching for suspicious puffs of disturbed air heading west from die coast of Africa No hurricane hunter aircraft tracked storms across die Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. No computer crunched numbers, calculating what combination of fronts and troughs would push and pull a storm diis way and tiiat There was no Doppler radar, no Weadier Channel On die morning of Sept 8, 1900, Galveston was a hot but happy town, unaware of its fate. Much of the city had burned down 15 years earlier, but now diings were hopping again. With a deep, protected harbor on its bay side, Galveston was die bustling gateway to Texas and die emerging economic power of die Southwest There were bigger cities in Texas, but Galveston was "Queen of the Gulf;" 70 percent of the nation's cotton crop passed dirough its port The downtown street called The Strand, locals liked to say, was die Wall Street of die Southwest It was no idle boast Based on per capita income, Galveston was among die richest urban areas in the United States. Many new millionaires strutted The Strand. n For a few days prior to Sept 8, there was talk of a storm somewhere in die gulf. But die city paid lit tle attention; Galveston had weadiered storms before. .. Tlte place The city was built on die east end of Galveston Island, a 28-mile-long sliver of barrier island little more than a sandbar, really. Over the years the city had come to depend on 15-foot sand dunes just off the beach for protection against the sea. In recent years, though, the dunes had been removed, either used as fill in other parts of die city or to provide easier tourist access to the beach. Galveston, already an easy target for a hurricane, had become even more vulnerable. Galveston's storm was first noticed Sept 2 at the eastern edge of die Caribbean, more than 1,000 miles southeast of Miami. Over the next few days, it approached and then moved across Cuba, a small but veryVet tropical storm system. In his 1999 bestseller Isaac's Storm, author Erik Larson reports that a key mistake was made in fixing the storm's location as it passed over Cuba, a mistake that placed the storm too far to the east The error caused people to think die storm had turned, and would take a northward or northeastward course through Florida. Instead, it strengdi-ened and continued west into die gulf where, for all practical purposes, it disappeared. For several days, there was no clear idea of where the storm was, where it was going or how powerful it was becoming. When it finally became apparent a storm was moving north in die gulf, storm warnings were issued on Sept 6. But no one knew what modern satellites and aircraft could have told them: The rainy tropical system that had passed over Cuba had become a Category 4 hurricane, a monster pushing a vast wall of water before it Dr. Isaac Cline was chief of die Texas Section of the National Weadier Service and head of its Galveston bureau. He lived on die island widi his wife, Cora, and their three children. His brother, J.L Cline, assisted him in die Galveston office. In his of ficial report on the storm, Cline writes that his brother called him at 5 a.m. Sept 8 to report die tide "was well up in the low parts of die city." Cline hitched up his horse and buggy and went to investigate. He found "unusually heavy swells" from die gulf, overflowing areas near die beach. Nordierly winds were driving water into the city from die bay on the island's north side, too, and it soon became apparent that Galveston was taking on water from two directions. Showers began about 8:45 am. and dense clouds and heavy rain appeared about noon. The winds began to strengthen about 1 p.m and reached hurricane velocity about 5 p.m. By nightfall, die inland was com- is under martial law... They estimate the where .... . . . --. . " ',' " i f f V--;. :,tj , 4 ' ' , w:V j ? ... : ; . J ill M- ,v ' ... u' H 1 J' jV : ' fi . brv w' - ' -V. II ' . . U ...if - -4 , , . , . L , -s. ' . 1 ! 1 ! . - ' '' " )', r. SI 'I ' ' ' '" , ' "j- '"" a''" - 3 . , x . il ' , ' - : 1 . ; ; . " ' ? ' . I'j j ' . ' 5 . - - '-..".'-. - Ik'..-- . . j ( ' f I "- f ;,'. 5,.. ' -.'..., X ; 1 1 f i . - 1 I . . . - ( i m " ....". . ' , - '." !t ' i(, ' i J'' ' ' .. t . 1 f . I H 1 r -r .,.,:-. ' .,. ' ' t',.w.'J':' r i , - . t I .. ...' . . . . 1 '.'".y" .. ' . ' ' ' ' i ....a ...... . - .. i V . ... v : - - - ' i CC VI Archives, Will Murney, here at age 13, was one of three children from St. Mary's Orphans Asylum in Galveston to survive the hurricane. pletely flooded. The gauge at die Weadier Service office blew away after recording winds of about 100 mph, and diey continued to climb to "at least" 120 mph, Cline wrote. Ths storm arrives with the night AM. It does not require a great stretch of imagination to imagine this structure a shaky old boat out at sea. The whole thing rocking like a reef, surrounded by water. Said water growing closer, evercbser. 12-noon Ihings beginning to look serious. Water up to the first floor in the house ... Cornices, roofs, windows, lights, blinds flying in all directions. It is all a grand fine sight, our beautiful bay a raging torrent. 3 pm Atn beginning to feel a weakening desire for something to 'cling to.' should fed more comfortable in the embrace of your arms. Darkness is overwhelming us, to add to the horror. Dearest I reach out my i You may look tipon this almost as a message come front tliey are burning the hand to you, my heart, my soul. A letter in the files of Galveston's Rosenberg Library. The author's fate is unknown. Having found die gulf side of the city under water, and widi the wind rising, Cline decided to check on his family. He started for home widi water splashing around his shoes. By die time he arrived, he was almost swimming. "I reached home and found die water waist deep around my residence," he wrote. He also found 40 or 50 people in need of si letter and opened his doors to diem. The streets were filling with people moving toward die city's highest ground, and die danger was growing. Winds ripped new slate shingles off houses required after wood shingles fueled a deadly fire 15 years earlier and sent them whisding down die streets like scytiics. The first bodies apiieared. "Roofs of the houses and timbers were flying dirough the streets as loss of life from five Dead and such a queer smell is going , 'k ABIA M00P.E HAMILTON, IN A LFTIIR TO t With the prospect of disease growing more alarming every hour, tl they were found, in pyres, with the wreckage. Personal items were though tiiey were paper, and it apieared suicid;il to attempt a journey dirough die flying timbers," Cline wrote. "Many people were killed by flying timbers about diis time wliile endeavoring to escape to town." About 7:30 p.m., die main storm surge struck die city's soutii shore. Houses along die beachfront were lifted from their foundations and sent crashing into otiier houses. Much of die island was simply swept dean. In one small central section of town, buildings were spared only by a vast wall of debris that eventually encircled diem. Cline was standing in die front door of his home, looking out when the wall of water arrived. There was a sudden rise of about four feet in as many seconds," he wrote. "The water at this time was about eight inches deep in my residence and die sudden rise of four feet brought it above my wiist before I could change my position." If St Mary's Orphans Asylum was to eight thousands still standing at Unit moment, the surge would have doomed it. St Mary's had been built 3 mill s west of town, as far as reasonably possible from die yellow fever diat h;i;l killed many of the children's paj nits. It consisted of two large wooden dormitories, just off the bench behind large sand dimes. 'Ihe surge lifted the building from its foundation. Frank Madera, 12;tl ill, . time, described the night for tin1 Hw Urn Post in 1937. "We were terrified, and die sisi( rs had much trouble with the younger children," he s:u(l. "I must say there was never a braver group of women They comforted the smallest ours, some not more than 2 years old, :n best diey could. "About 7 p.m. the building hej;:!n U float I don't know how far out in the gulf we floated. ... Then suddenly something crashed into us and one wall caved in. The children and the grown-ups didn't have a chance. Hie floor sank as a great wave hit..." ! ieDead. I am so tired and shake so I can hardly write at all. Jihve heard of funeral pyres, but never seen them til now but you n Hardly a family is left whole. No words can picture this scene I R DAUGHTER IN OHIO, A WEEK AFTER TKE STORM city's Central Relief Committee removed and made available for Only three boys from die orphanage survived: Will Murney, Frank Madera and Albert Campbell, 13. They floated in the tree for more than . a day, seeing visions of their destroyed orphanage in "a kind of scmi-deliri-iimt!' Madera said. Ihe next day, workers found die body of a child in die sand. As they removed it diey found it attached at 'sfewrist to another child, and that -cF!d to another. In die next few days, the bodies of 90 children and 10 sister )vere found, still bound togedier, wrfetto wrist -fThe rope had done as intended; die Sisutts of Charity of the Incarnate Word stayed with their children to die end-.iv "I go wild when it storms," Madera U'lii the Houston Post, 37 years after tho-Lurricanc. "Not diat I'm afraid to d;e not that But I can't sleep, and I diiak of diose who might be in the storm. ; 'Iliear just one terrible, solid pcream of 100 children." ' A. Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library ordered bodies burned where later identification. Tragedy came to the Cline household, too. By 8 p.m., floating, dislodged houses were battering the sturdy structure. The house withstood that fairly well, but when a section of railroad tresfle struck, it collapsed. "At 8:30 p.m. my residence went down with about 50 persons who had sought it out for safety, and all but 18 were hurled into eternity," Cline wrote in his report "Among the lost was my wife who never rose above the water after the wreck of the building. "I was drowned beyond consciousness but recovered through being crushed by timbers and found myself clinging to my youngest child who went down with myself and wife." Miraculously, Cline's brother, J.L, appeared moments later widi Isaac's two other children, safely aboard floating debris, a piece of root "We drifted for three hours and landed 300 yards from where we started," Cline wrote. There were two hours diat we did not see a house nor jJ V nemcnihertrr t!i 1900 storm ... As night fell on Sept. 8, 1900, a great hurricane struck Galveston, Texas. Winds of 120 mph or higher swept across the island, and a storm surge of 15 to 20 feet put the entire city under water. At least 6,000 of the city's 38,000 residents died, and more than 3,600 buildings were destroyed. The 1900 storm is still considered the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. In its aftermath, Galveston constructed a sea wall and raised the grade of the island to protect it from future hurricanes. .ft" United States Pansacola .Tampa Mexico A t kin.. S X Orleans . "' Bahamas 'Cuba- - .' Caribbean Rep." Sea Source: Galveston County Daily News any persons and from the swell we inferred diat we were drifting to sea..." In Isaac's Storm, Erik Larson portrays Cline as a stubborn and prideful man, slow to react to the approaching danger. In his report following the hurricane, Cline defended the warnings his of fice gave the city. "Storm warnings were timely," he said. "People were advised to seek secure places for die night As a result diousands of people who lived near the beach or in small houses moved their families into die center of the dty and were dius saved. "No one ever dreamed diat die water would reach the height observed in die present case." Tha morning sun reveals a nhtmare You may look upon this almost as a message come from the Dead I am so tired and sliake so lean hardly write at all. -... A 'City 10 I :: . J "'f Galveston Aw6a 'v-l Guff of i."!!..r Mexico' ....-.lV , ......'I.....' 'i vi. : can see the fires on ... A 1 I 1 Path of unnamed storm Depression Storm Hurricane 200 miles Atlantic Ocean Bermuda Z?!0 R,co Lesser Antilles Facts about the 1900 storm: 8.7 feet was the highest elevation on Galveston Island in 1900. 15 to 20 feet was the height of the storm surge. 27.49 inches was the barometric pressure recorded in Galveston, 30 miles from the eye of the storm. At least 6,000 people were estimated to have been killed on Galveston Island alone. Times art The place is under martial law ... They estimate the loss of life from five to eight thousand. I have heard of funeral pyres, but never seen them til now but you can see the fires on every side where they are burning the Dead and such a queer smell isgoingon ... Hardly afam-ily is left whole. No words can picture this scene... Abia Moore Hamilton, in a letter to her daughter in Ohio, a week after the storm After the terror of die night morning brought shock, grief and very quickly, a serious health problem. "Sunday, September 9th, 1900," Cline wrote, "revealed one of die most horrible sights tiiat ever a civilized people looked upon." Bodies were everywhere. At first, graves were dug and attempts were made to identify and briefly honor die dead. Some were brought by wagon to cotton warehouses, temporary morgues on The Strand. Soon, though, the numbers over- every side whelmed them. On Sept 10, desperate for a solution, city officials ordered almost 1,000 bodies taken to sea in barges. There they were weighted and pushed over the side. It was a bad plan. By the next morning the tide had returned the bodies to Galveston. They lined the beaches, rolling with the movement of the water. . Finally, with the prospect of disease growing more alarming every hour, all pretense at ceremony and even identification was abandoned. The city's Central Relief Committee ordered bodies burned where they were found, in pyres, with the wreckage. Personal items were removed and made available for later identification. The funeral fires burned nearly continuously for almost a month. The last body was not recovered until Feb. 10, the next year. But even in the midst of these horrors, resilient Galvestonians found reasons to smile, and to plan a comeback. Linda Macdonald's family has lived on Galveston Island for four generations. She, and many others with island roots, proudly wears a BOI necklace "Bora On Island." "My grandfather ran a bakery, in one of the few buildings that survived die storm," she said. "He emerged from the building with his father after the storm and found a barrel had washed up near the front door. It was wine. "His father, of French extraction, tasted it and said: 'Ah ... the Good Lord never forgets the needs of a Frenchman.'" A decision to rebuild We are gradually coming up out of the disaster which settled over the city, and we know tiiat with our locality, deep water and our commercial importance, that we will build a city here along modern lines, which will attract citizenship from all parts of the world J.H. Hawley, railroad agent in a letter to his wife 10 days after the storm. For mondis after die storm, Galveston was an arid, lifeless place. The whole island was covered with salt sand and mud," said Michael C. Doherty, chairman of the dty"s 1900 Storm Commemoration Committee. "All the grass died; all die plants died. As many stories as I heard about the storm as a kid, I heard nothing about tlie period immediately afterward. This must have been a terrible place to be." Galveston had suffered a terrible blow, and for a while die city did more grieving than dreaming. But it didn't take long for people to pick up die pieces. f ' Texas State Library and Archives Commission Just two weeks after the storm, and the death of his wife, Cline wrote, "the wheels of commerce are already moving in a manner which gives assurance for the future." But it was obvious the city would have to take steps to protect itself. It was just too low. Galveston would have to be raised. Also, a wall would be needed to keep die water away. A sea waD, to be financed by city and county bonds, was enthusiastically approved: 3,119 for and 22 against Built from 1902 to 1910, the 17-foot wall cost $1,198,318.80, a bargain by today's standards. It stretched almost 3 miles, from the east to the west (The sea wall has been extended a number of times and today is a little more tiian 10 miles long.) The matter of raising die island was more complicated. From 1904 to 1910, dredges pumped a slurry of sand and seawater all over me dty, gradually raising the grade as much as 17 feet in some places. Some 2,146 homes had to be temporarily raised on stilts, then placed down on their new, higher elevation. The grade was made higher on the gulf side and today slopes gently down toward the piers on the north side of Galveston Island. The sea wall got a test in 1915 when another hurricane, probably as strong as the 1900 storm, struck Galveston. While the sea wall was battered and damaged, the loss of life and property was minimal compared with the devastation of 1900. Galveston recovered, but not in time to keep Houston from overtaking it as the region's dominant economic power. The mainland dty to the norm built a 50-mile ship channel that allowed vessels to bypass Galveston. Soontheydid. A day to bo solemn; a day to celebrate One hundred years have passed, but in small ways Galveston is still recovering. The list of the dead is considered incomplete, and is still being updated. Just a few weeks ago, said Shelly Kelly, an archivist at die dry's Rosenberg Library, a family in Arkansas wrote to provide the names of children whose bodies had been counted among the dead but until now, had remained unidentified. "Nothing is ever really over here in Galveston," said Alice Wygant, a historian and organizer of the tity's plans to , mark the anniversary. "We like to tell die story of die motiiers of a bride and groom, trim-Please see GALVESTON 14A

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