Victims' Rights Caucus

Speeches

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 -

Mr. Speaker, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina is a vivid reminder to Texans of another hurricane that occurred 105 years ago, the weekend of September 8, 1900, in Galveston, Texas. That hurricane, known to many as "the storm," was the deadliest natural disaster to take place in American history.

In 1900, Galveston was the showplace of the Gulf of Mexico, referred to by many as the Jewel of Texas and the wealthiest city in the State of Texas. On that weekend in September, as 40,000 residents and vacationers were bidding farewell to summer, weather forecasters were watching closely an unnamed hurricane brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. Having very little of today's weather forecasting equipment, the trackers lost the location of the storm in the gulf after it passed the predicted landfall of Florida.

It began as a tropical storm on August 27, 1900, and no one could imagine what it would become. Twelve days later, in the darkness of the night on September 8, 105 years ago today, it started to rain in Galveston and the water silently and quickly began to rise. It crept and covered the low-lying island. The island was barely above sea level at 5 to 9 feet. There was no time for any evacuation.

The strong winds and rains ravaged the city. Houses were devastated and families were swept away. As the power and phones went out, people started wading through the murky mounting water. They sought shelter in downtown buildings and churches as the gale winds and incessant rain continued to increase.

Nuns in the local orphanage tied a roped around the waists of the children and unsuccessfully tried to lead them to higher ground. Of the 93 children and 10 Catholic nuns, only three boys survived.

No one was prepared or adequately warned for this Category 4 hurricane that hit the city of Galveston. The force of the 140-mile-an-hour winds caused a water surge that covered most of the 3 mile by 30 mile island in minutes.

The nameless hurricane destroyed 3,500 buildings, over half of the city. The loss of life was staggering. It reminds me of the scripture of old, that the rains came down, the waters rose, and the winds blew and beat against the houses. But when the rains stopped and the wind blew no more, over 8,000 people had died. Hundreds more were never accounted for. Nearly everyone on the island knew a friend or relative who had perished.

Isaac Cline, a Galveston forecaster, never believed that the hurricane could ravage this paradise island. After the calm came once more, Cline described the storm's aftermath as "the most horrible sight that was ever witnessed by a civilized people."

When the hurricane finally moved inland, and it did not end its winds until it got to Canada, the task of recovery was overwhelming. Prisoners of the State penitentiary were used in the cleanup to find the dead, buried at sea, only to resurface on the beaches. Bodies were still being found in February of the next year. Since it was not possible to bury the thousands that died, they were eventually cremated.

The story of Galveston's hurricane is a story of death and devastation and ultimate determination.

The survivors in Galveston were committed to protect their city in the future. They dredged the ship channel and the island was literally raised 17 feet by the dredging. It would be an engineering marvel even today. A massive sea wall was built to protect the city from future hurricanes. The economic loss, property loss, and loss of life had a serious impact on the coastal city.

Although the great storm in Galveston was extraordinary, those who survived and pitched in to help rebuild Galveston were just as extraordinary in their grit and character. Those brave Texans who survived faced the challenges head on, and eventually Galveston rose back from that murky mud.

Galveston has come a lo