J.H.W. Stele to Sayers, September 11-12, 1900
On Saturday, September 8, 1900, a hurricane of almost unimaginable force smashed into the Texas coast at Galveston. Winds reached as high as 120 miles per hour. The storm surge inundated the city to a depth of 15 feet, and the great amount of debris in the water acted as a battering ram against the city as the waves rose and fell. Two-thirds of the buildings of the city were destroyed, and between 6000 and 8000 people killed in the city (the total death toll along the coast was 10,000 to 12,000). It was the worst natural disaster in United States history. Scenes of unbelievable horror and suffering followed for weeks after the disaster.
In the aftermath, Galveston lost its status as one of the leading commercial centers of the South. Nearby Houston emerged as the center the Texas oil industry and as a major port following the completion in 1914 of the Houston ship channel to the Gulf of Mexico.
But the citizens of Galveston were determined to rebuild. They developed the commission form of government still in use in many cities today. And, they built a remarkable seawall, six miles long, and raised the grade of the city as much as 17 feet. In this extraordinary effort, over 2000 buildings were jacked up and filling pumped underneath, including a 3000-ton church.
Several storms as powerful as the 1900 storm have hit the United States in the years since, and at least two -- the 1935 Florida Keys storm and Hurricane Camille in 1969 -- were more powerful. But none had the loss of life that makes the Galveston storm unique among natural disasters.
Perhaps a survivor who lost everything in the storm, including his wife and newborn baby, best summed up the losses inflicted by the Great Storm of 1900. Speaking of his life before the storm, he later said: "It seems as a dream, of a thing that never was."
J.H.W. Stele to Sayers, September 11-12, 1900, Records of Joseph Draper Sayers, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.