On September 8, 1900, the coastal city of Galveston, Texas was hit by a hurricane like none that the United States had ever experienced before.
Winds of 120 MPH slammed the city with flying debris that cut through homes like shrapnel. Waves crashed onto the streets, leaving the city 15 feet underwater at one point. And, worst of all, virtually nobody had the foresight to evacuate.
Galvestonians had experienced ocean floodwaters from storms before, but hadn’t ever done much more than board up windows and build beach houses up off the ground as prevention. This lack of preparation would cost them dearly.
The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 remains the deadliest natural disaster in modern U.S. history, leaving behind an estimated death toll of 6 to 12 thousand people while creating an estimated half a billion dollars in damages. These photographs capture the haunting aftermath:
The trouble began on Friday, September 7, when Galveston was issued a storm warning by the central office of the Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service). A single-paragraph story with a headline that read "Storm in the Gulf" appeared in the following day's newspaper, but did little to cause the citizens much concern.
However, Isaac M. Cline, a Weather Bureau official, drove his horse-drawn buggy through Galveston's neighborhoods, urging people to seek shelter. Even Cline didn't believe there was cause for serious concern, though, writing in 1891 that "it would be impossible for any cyclone to create a storm wave which could materially injure the city." (It should be noted that Cline survived the storm, but of course, those words would haunt him dearly.)
But as the tides began to rise and the winds came, Galveston was punished with unmerciful hurricane winds that left sheer chaos in their wake.
When it was all over, the wrath of the Galveston Hurricane changed the city's stance on hurricane preparation, causing officials to build a 17-foot sea wall two years later in order to break storm swells.
The Gulf Coast of Texas would be reminded of the power of a hurricane again, 105 years later, when Hurricane Rita — the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane on record — would lead to Galveston's largest evacuation. Only this time they were ready for it.
After this look at the Galveston Hurricane, discover the the weirdest disasters in human history. Then, read up on the most devastating natural disasters of the 21st century.