Nation’s deadliest natural disaster

By: Joe Strupp

Memories of the biggest blow

Quick, what was the deadliest natural disaster in American history? The San Francisco Earth- quake? The Great Chicago Fire? The Johnstown Flood?
Hardly. Try the 1900 Storm of Galveston, Texas.
Yes, the killer hurricane — which didn’t even have a name when it slammed into the small island city off the Texas Gulf Coast a century ago — still ranks as the worst-ever natural disaster, in terms of loss of life, on American soil. Historians estimate that 6,000 people — out of a city population of about 37,000 at the time — were killed as a result of the torrential rains, fierce winds, and horrendous flooding that wiped out the then-burgeoning waterfront community.
And nearly as incredible as the storm’s destruction was the city’s reconstruction over several decades. That effort included raising the city some 12 feet, building a seawall to protect from future storms, and mapping out detailed disaster-preparedness plans to help curtail future storm damage.
The dramatic devastation and resurrection of Galveston is the basis of a special 44-page section published yesterday by The Galveston County Daily News as part of the city’s observance of the 100th anniversary of the Sept. 8 storm. The Daily News also created a Web site to mark the anniversary (http:// and co-sponsored the triple-life-size 1900 Storm Commemorative Sculpture.
“A paper is really doing a service when it reflects not only the news in a town but the rhythm of its life,” Daily News Editor Heber Taylor said about the anniversary coverage by the Walls Investment Co.-owned paper. “It gives you a sense of what makes Galveston so different from many other places.”
The special section includes a history of the storm and the rebuilding; before-and-after photos of buildings and neighborhoods; other historical data; and current disaster-preparation efforts. But the most interesting elements of the project are the numerous stories of residents fleeing the storm, including many stories that were handed down through generations.
“Almost everyone in Galveston has stories about how their families survived, or didn’t survive, the storm,” said Daily News Publisher Dolph Tillotson. “People really lost everything.” Among the tales is one from Tillotson’s wife, whose relatives hid in a farm-house attic. As the legend goes, winds ripped the attic off the house and sent it floating away “like an ark.” Other stories range from children at a local orphanage clinging on a clothesline to a group of friends huddled in a bathroom during the storm.
The special section was included in each copy of yesterday’s issue of the Daily News’ Sunday paper. Editors, who declined to reveal specific revenue figures, said the special section was an advertising success.

(Editor & Publisher Web Site:
(copyright: Editor & Publisher September 4, 2000)

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