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Talking about hurricanes

By By LYDIA GRIMES Feature Reporter
We missed "the wrath of Frances" and hoped to miss the next one, but it looks as if we may not be so lucky this time with Ivan churning in the Gulf. Everyone will keep their eyes open to see what happens. We all feel for the people in Florida and what they have been through and we hope we won't have the same problems here.
All of these hurricanes we have been hearing about has reminded me of one of the stories told in "Emma's Diary," the little book that I told you about in the profile section of the paper Sept. 1, 2004. In the book, Emma tells of a hurricane that almost blew them off Dauphin Island. She is quite descriptive telling about hanging onto sapling trees to keep from blowing away. When a tree fell near the place she and her family were trying to hang on, her father gathered the family together and they all moved to take cover in the branches of the tree. At the time that storm took place, there were not meteorologists keeping up with the hurricane as it was advancing. This made me remember the story of another hurricane that I have heard about. It may have even been the same storm that Emma and her family were battling.
Friday, Sept. 7, 1900 was a fairly normal day in Galveston, Texas. No one was worried about the 15 mph wind that was blowing, but by the next morning, people were watching the surf pound onto the beach. The wind climbed to 50 mph and the tide began to rise. It didn't have far to go as the highest elevation of the island was only 8.7 feet above sea level. A steamship broke loose from its mooring and crashed into the three bridges connecting Galveston with the mainland. The 37,000 residents were cut off from escaping the island and left to get by any way they could. As the wind speed rose and shifted direction, the water from Galveston Bay and the water from the Gulf of Mexico met and completely covered the island with a 15.7 feet storm surge. The wind is believed to have reached between 130 and 140 mph. Residents had no place to run so they climbed to the top floors of the buildings. One survivor described the situation as being like "rats clinging to the sinking ship." Soon water was running into the second floor buildings forcing many residents into the sea and were either drowned or killed by debris.
St. Mary's Orphanage housed 93 children and three nuns. In an effort to keep the children together, the nuns tied the children in groups, but to no avail. All three nuns died and only three of the children survived. The city's gas works were destroyed and the city was plunged into darkness. The night was long, windy, dark and wet. People watched as neighbors were swept away in the flood of water, as they themselves hung on for dear life to any part of the building they could. As buildings collapsed into piles of timber, the pieces helped in the destruction of the buildings left standing. By midnight of Sept. 8, the storm had blown inland and would eventually reach the Great Lakes with winds of 70 mph. At the time of this storm, hurricanes were not given names, but the one that hit Galveston on that hot September day is considered to be the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
The terrible aftermath of the storm was indescribable. Most figures put the death toll on the island as being 6,000 with another 2,000 who were living along Galveston Bay on the mainland.
Some good did come out of the horrible storm. The citizens of Galveston made some changes in their town by dredging Galveston Bay using the soil to increase the elevation. They also built a 17-foot-tall, three-mile-wide sea wall.
Today, we are fearful of hurricanes that enter the Gulf of Mexico and we hear about them on the news for days, sometimes weeks, before they get close enough to do damage. With technology, we now know much about what may be coming. Imagine living in a time when there was no early warning system to alert people and give them a chance to evacuate. Even during my childhood days I can remember storms that seemed to slip up on us. Thank goodness we have the early warnings today. Some people may not heed the warnings, but at least we are not surprised when bad weather hits.