"First news from Galveston just received by train which could get no closer to the bay shore than six miles where the prairie was strewn with debris and dead bodies. About 200 corpses counted from the train. Large steamship stranded two miles inland. Nothing could be seen of Galveston. Loss of life and property undoubtedly most appalling. Weather clear and bright here with gentle southeast wind." (G. L. Vaughan, manager of Western Union in Houston, in a telegram to the chief of the US Weather Bureau on the day after the hurricane.)
In 2005 the world watched in horror as Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, and the calamity seemed all the worse because many felt that technology had advanced far enough to prevent such tragedies, whether through advanced warnings or engineering. At the same time, that response tends to overlook all of the dangers posed by hurricanes and other natural disasters. After all, storms and hurricanes have been wiping out coastal communities ever since the first humans built them.
As bad as Hurricane Katrina was, the hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900, killed several times more people, with an estimated death toll between 6,000 and 12,000 people. Prior to advanced communications, few people knew about impending hurricanes except those closest to the site. In the days before television or even radio, catastrophic descriptions were merely recorded on paper, limiting our understanding of the immediate impact. Stories could be published after the water receded and the dead were buried, but by then the immediate shock had worn off, and all that remained were memories of the survivors. Thus it was inevitable that the category 4 hurricane would cause almost inconceivable destruction as it made landfall in Texas, with winds at 145 miles per hour.
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