Remembering Galveston: The Great Hurricane of 1900

If you have been to Galveston, Texas, you are quite familiar with the city’s seawall. Construction began in 1902 as a response to the Great Hurricane of 1900, which devastated the city exactly 116 years ago today.

galveston1900On Sept. 4, 1900, Galveston was notified of a hurricane moving north of Cuba. Without the aid of modern forecasting technology, Galveston residents were unaware of the precise movement and potential track of the impending hurricane. As the hurricane progressed through the Gulf of Mexico it experienced rapid strengthening before it made landfall just a few miles southwest of Galveston. Meteorologists estimated winds of at least 130 miles per hour as the storm barreled through the city. With a storm surge of over 15 feet, Galveston was inundated with water. Residents received warnings of the hurricane the morning of Sept. 8, however many neglected the advisories. Texas’ fourth largest city had lost nearly 6,000 – 8,000 residents when the sun rose the next day. The Great Hurricane of 1900 is known as the “deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history”.

One year after the city was nearly obliterated, Galveston citizens crafted an idea unlike any other to salvage their once adored and thriving city. Engineers began building a monster seawall built of solid concrete that would stand seventeen feet high spanning approximately seven miles long. The wall was 15 feet thick at the base and close to five feet thick at the top. By 1904, the seawall stretched over three miles long. Additions to the seawall would continue through the 50’s. Did you also know that, as part of the project, the whole city was elevated between 2 and 14 feet?  Galveston was 9 feet above sea level when the Great Hurricane of 1900 hit and endured substantial damage from the storm surge. Engineers believed raising the elevation of the city would protect structures- power lines, telegraph/telephone poles, sewer lines-  from the storm surge. Ocean dredges were contracted to pick up sediment from the Gulf of Mexico and pump the sand into a canal that was built through the city. The area directly behind the seawall was raised nearly 16 feet to help support the seawall. By 1910, over 500 blocks of Galveston land had been raised.

Today, Galveston’s seawall runs ten miles long and roughly seventeen feet above sea level.

Galveston Seawall

Sources:
Galveston’s Response to the Hurricane of 1900 http://texasalmanac.com/topics/history/galvestons-response-hurricane-1900

NOAA 200th Feature Stories- The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900- history http://celebrating200years.noaa.gov/magazine/galv_hurricane/welcome.html