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

St. Petersburg, Florida
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 28, 2000
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1 2A TIMES SUNDAY, MAY 28, 2000 TIMES SUNDAY, MAY 28, 2000 1 3A j f 1 GiilvstGii from 1A some with people clinging to them 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 the 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 the branches of a tree with two other boys. Joe was gone. In shock, the three boys walked back to town, now the scene of the greatest natural disaster in their nation's history. Where's the storm? No geosynchronous 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 the coast of Africa. No hurricane hunter aircraft tracked storms across the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. No computer crunched numbers, calculating what combination of fronts and troughs would push and pull a storm this way and that There-was no Doppler radar, no Weather ChanneL On the 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 things were hopping again. With a deep, protected harbor on its bay side, Galveston was the bustling gateway to Texas and the emerging economic power of the Southwest There were bigger cities in Texas, but Galveston was "Queen of the Gulf;" 70 percent of the nation's cotton crop passed through its port The downtown street called The Strand, locals liked to say, was the Wall Street of the Southwest It was no idle boast Based on per capita income, Galveston was among the richest urban areas in the United States. Many new millionaires strutted The Strand. For a few days prior to Sept 8, there was talk of a storm somewhere in the gulf. But the city paid little attention; Galveston had weathered storms before. The place The city was built on the east en d of ' Galveston Island, a 28-mile-long sliver of barrier island Me more than a sandbar, really. Over the years the city had come to depend on 15-foot sand dunes just of f the beach for protection against the sea. In recent years, though, the dunes had been removed, either used as fill in other parts of the 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 the . Caribbean, more than 1,000 miles southeast of Miami. Over the next few days, it approached and then moved across Cuba, a small but very wet 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 the storm had turned, and would take a northward or northeastward course through Florida. Instead, it strengthened and continued west into the 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 diem: The rainy tropical system diat 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 the Texas Section of the National Weather Service and head of its Galveston bureau. He lived on the island with his wife, Cora, and their three children. His brother, J.L Cline, assisted him in the Galveston office. In his official report on the storm, Cline writes that his brother called him at 5 a.m. Sept 8 to report the tide "was well up in die low parts of the city." Cline hitched up his horse and buggy and went to investigate. He found "unusually heavy swells" from the gulf, overflowing areas near die beach. Northerly winds were driving water into the city from the 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 strengtiien about 1 p.m and reached hurricane velocity about 5 p.m. By nightfall, die island was com-I You may look upon this almost as a message come from I j h e Dead. I am so tired is under martial law... They estimate the loss of life from five to eight thousand, .have heard of funeral where they are burning the Dead and such a queer smell is going ('hi:.. Hardly a family is 0 i r .4 .-I V CCVI 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 the Weather Service office blew away after recording winds of about 100 mph, and Uiey continued to climb to "at least" 120 mph, Cline wrote. Tho storm arrives with ths 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, ever closer. l2noon Things beginning to look serious. Water up to the first floor in the house ... Cornices, roojs. windows, lights, blinds flying in all directions. It is all a grand fine sight, our beautiful bay a raging torrent. 3 pm Am beginning to feel a weakening desire for something to 'cling to.' should feel more comfortable in the embrace of your arms. Darkness is overwhelming us, to add to the horror. Dearest reach out my 11, 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 with the wind rising, Cline decided to check on his family. He started for home with water splashing around his shoes. By die time he arrived, he was almost swimming. "I reached home and found the water waist deep around my residence," he wrote. He also found 40 or 50 people in need of shelter and opened his doors to diem. The streets were filling widi people moving toward the 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 diem whistling down the streets like scythes. The first bodies appeared. "Roofs of die houses and timbers were flying dirough the streets as ) ABIA MOORE AitK tho rrrtrro rf rlieooea nrfwAnnn mnra aldKrvunn aton hvM r 1 tt .1 . . jr i .. . . 'ii- xi tney were rouna, in pyres, wiin me though tliey were paper, and it appeared suicidal to attempt a journey through the flying timbers," Cline wrote. "Many people were killed by flying timbers about tiiis time while endeavoring to escape to town." About 7:30 p.m., die main storm surge struck the city's south shore. Houses along the beachfront were lifted from their foundations and sent crashing into other houses. Much of die island was simply swept clean. 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 die 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 the sudden rise of four feet brought it above my waist before I could change my position." If St Mary's Orphans Asylum was HAMILTON, IN A LETTER T?-!! J:ii r 4 .Si ' IS l'' . i r i ;a w ' wreckage, rersonai nenia : still standing at tiiat moment, tiio surge would have doomed it ' St. Mary's had been built 3 mils west of town, as far as reasonably po -sible from the yellow fever that liaij killed many of the cliildren's parents. It consisted of two large wooden;dor-mitories, just off die beach behind large sand dunes. ', ; The surge lifted die building frm its foundation. Frank Madera, L' at du n If time, described die night for tin- ihm-ton Post in 1937. "We were terrified, and the sisters had much trouble witii die younsrer children," he said. "I must say there was never a braver group of woi ru n. They comforted die smallest ones, some not more dian 2 years old.'as best tiicy could. " "About 7 p.m. die building by, in to float I don't know how far out in du1 gulf we floated. ... Then suddenly ' . somediing crashed into us and one wall caved in. The cliildren and lh grown-ups didn't have a chance. 1 lie floor sank as agreat wave hit.,.." i CAUCHTER IN OHIO, A WEEK AFTER THE STORM i . ! t i k 1 1 f . ' f - i r nkv's Central Relief Committee removed and made available for Only diree boys from the orphanage survived: Will Murney, Frank Madera and Albert Campbell, 13. They floated in die tree for more than a day, seeing visions of dieir destroyed orphanage in "a kind of semi-deliri-um." Madera said. ' i Hie next day, workers found the body of a child in the sand. As they rt moved it tiiey found it attached at die wrist to another child, and that ihild to miodier. In die next few days, the bodies of 90 children and 10 sister were found, still bound togetiier, wrbt to wrist The rope had done as intended; die Si mts of Charity of the Incarnate Woi d stayed with their children to die end. . " "I go wild when it storms," Madera told die Houston Post, 37 years after tho hurricane. "Not that I'm afraid to dio not diat But I can't sleep, and I t hii ik of diose who might be in the storm. 'i ''I hear just one terrible, solid scream of 100 children." and shake so I can hardly write at all. pyres, but never seen them til now but you left whole. No words can picture this scene - ' i , 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 witiistood that fairly well, but when a section of railroad tresde 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 die lost was my wife who never rose above the water after the wreck of die building. "I was drowned beyond consciousness but recovered dirough 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 witii Isaac's two other children, safely aboard floating debris, a piece of roof. "We drifted for three hours and landed 300 yards from where we started," Cline wrote. "There were two hours that we did not see a house nor I e.jJ ncir.CEn&cring t!;o 1009 storm ... As night fell on Sept. 8, 1 900, a great hurricane struck Galveston, Texas. Winds of 120 mph or higher swept across the island, and a storm surge of 1 5 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. United States V' New ;Orteans-v Pfisacols ''rS"'"' ' ."" : ".lamp; Gulf of . , Mftxice '.' Bahamas Dam. ,,,V-, ' (v, fw Puerto "1 Mnfj'ston- 59 T. ,A ciiy 'io y y ; n . ' x",n Area Crlf . shown j Mexico I Source: Galveston County Daily News any persons and from the swell we inferred that we were drifting to sea..." in Isaac's Storm, Erik Larson portrays Cline as a stubborn and prideful man, slow to react to die approaching danger. In his report following the hurricane, Cline defended the warnings his office gave the city. "Storm warnings were timely," he said. "People were advised to seek secure places for the night As a result thousands of people who lived near the beach or in small houses moved their families into die center of die city and were thus saved. "No one ever dreamed that the water would reach the height observed in die present case." Tha mcmirj sun reveals a nightmare You may look upon this almost as a m essage come from tlie Dead. I am so tired and siiake so I can hardly write at all. can see the fires on ... 1': A'- i Path of unnamed storm Depression Storm Hurricane 200 miles V'ir'ud.i l- :,.r , . (til1'". S ' Facts about the 19CO storm: 8.7 feet was the highest elevation on Galveston Island in 1900. 15 to 20 feet was the height of the storm sur96' 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 tlie loss of life from five to eight tkousand 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 is going on... Hardly a family 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 tlie night morning brought shock, grief and very quickly, a serious hcaldi problem. "Sunday, September 9tii, 1900," Cline wrote, "revealed one of die most horrible sights diat ever a civilized people looked upon." Bodies were everywhere. At first, graves were dug and attempts were made to identify and briefly honor tlie dead. Some were brought by wagon to cotton warehouses, temporary morgues on The Strand. Soon, though, die numbers over every side whelmed diem. 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. Tlie 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 mondi. Tlie 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 widi island roots, proudly wears a BOI necklace "Born On Island." "My grandfather ran a bakery, in one of the few buildings that survived the storm," she said. "He emerged from die building with his father after die storm and found a barrel had washed up near the front door. It was wine. "His fatiier, of French extraction, tasted it and said: 'Ah ... the Good Lord never forgets the needs of a Frenchman.' " A deebbn to rebuild We are gradually coming up out of the disaster which settled over the city, and we know that 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 months after die storm, Galveston was an arid, lifeless ptoce. The whole island was covered with salt, sand and mud," said Michael C. Doherty, chairman of die city's 1900 Storm Commemoration Committee. "All die grass died; all die plants died. As many stories as 1 heard about die storm as a kid, I heard notiiing about die period immediately afterward. This must have been a terrible place to be." Galveston had suffered a terrible blow, and for a while the city did more grieving tiian dreaming. But it didn't take long for people to pick up die pieces. t Texas State Library and Archives Commission Just two weeks after the storm, and the deadi of his wife, Cline wrote, "die wheels of commerce are already moving in a manner which gives assurance for die 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 the water away. A sea wall, to be financed by city and county bonds, was entiiusiastically 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 die east to die 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 the island was more complicated. From 1904 to 1910, dredges pumped a slurry of sand and seawater all over the city, gradually raising die 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 die 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 city to die nortii built a 50-mile ship channel diat allowed vessels to bypass Galveston. Soon they did. A day to be solemn; adaytoceicbrata 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 city's Rosenberg library, a family in Arkansas wrote to provide die names of children whose bodies had been counted among tlie dead but until now, had remained unidentified. "Notiiing is ever really over here in Galveston," said Alice Wygant a historian and organizer of die city's plans to mark the anniversary. "We like to tell die story of die modiers of a bride and groom, trim-Please see GALVESTON 14A

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