One of the deadliest hurricanes in United States history hit Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900, killing more than 6,000 people.
The storm caused so much destruction along the Texas coast that it is difficult to make reliable estimates of the number of victims, some believe as many as 12,000 people perished , which would make it the deadliest day in US history.
Galveston Island is off the coast of Texas, long and narrow, about 28 miles long by 2 miles wide, and barely above sea level.
Galveston's bayside port was a major port with numerous rail connections, as a major center of commerce, thousands of people settled on the island in the late 19th century.
It was a Friday afternoon when Galveston residents first received an indication that a storm was imminent. For a few days, the storm had been lashing the Texas coast, crossing the Gulf of Mexico from the Florida Keys. At the time, there was no reliable warning system for hurricanes ; it wasn't until 1908 that ships began radioing the mainland about approaching storms.
The storm hit Galveston on Saturday, September 8 with sustained winds of at least 115 miles per hour; the city's wind gauge blew up, so the wind speed may have been even higher.
A Category 4 hurricane, the storm brought with it a massive storm surge , and by 3 p.m., the water had covered nearly the entire island. It came in waves that were 15 feet higher than mean tide.
At the Punta Bolívar lighthouse, there was a report that the salty ocean water reached a height of 115 feet. Buildings collapsed and fell from the force of the water and the strong winds ripped the roofs off almost every building in the city .
Many Galveston businesses and families had installed slate roofs after a serious fire in 1885 and these roofs became flying weapons of destruction when the hurricane blew them up.
St. Mary's Orphanage collapsed and killed all the inhabitants . At the Ursuline Convent, 1,000 people gathered for shelter, but when a 10-foot retaining wall fell, the entire front of the convent collapsed.
Ships in the harbor hurled themselves at each other and some were later found 30 miles apart. Survivors reported seeing dead bodies floating all over the island . Thousands died in Galveston, and at least 2,000 others on the mainland coast also perished.
Exact numbers will never be known , in part because thousands of bodies were dumped in the Gulf of Mexico without being counted or identified. When Clara Barton of the Red Cross arrived in Galveston shortly after the disaster, she said, “It would be hard to overstate the horrible scene here.”
Galveston began to rebuild almost immediately , on October 2, 1902, construction began on a massive protective levee. Two years later, the wall, 16 feet thick by 17 feet high and constructed of cement, stone and steel bars, was completed.
By 1910, Galveston's population had grown to 36,000. Thanks to the city's preparations, when a similar storm hit in 1915, only eight people died.