The Longest Now


The Galveston Hurricane of 2005
Thursday September 22nd 2005, 3:08 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

In 1870, Indianola, Texas
was growing rapidly; a coastal town with 5,000 inhabitants.  Then
in 1975 it suffered the first of two massive storms, killing hundreds
and flattening the city.  It was rebuilt; but a second storm in
1886 caused residents to give it up altogether.  Today, thanks to
storm erosion, most of the original city is underwater.

In 1900, Galveston
had enjoyed even greater growth without disaster.  It had a
population of 42,000.  The city had worried about facing the same
fate as Indianola, but as decades passed without any serious storms at
all, some experts (including then-director of the Galveston Weather Bureau, Isaac Cline) suggested that hurricanes “could not” hit Galveston, for one reason or another.

That fall, an unnamed hurricane swept through town, killing around
8,000 people and flattening the city.  There were communication
problems back then… bridges and telegraph lines were cut, making it
hard to send messages to the mainland.  Once messengers did
arrive, they had a great deal of bureaucracy to negotiate, despite the
extraordinary damage.

The first message ran, “I have been deputized by the mayor and Citizen’s Committee of
Galveston to inform you that the city of Galveston is in ruins
.” The
messengers reported an estimated five hundred dead. This was considered
to be an exaggeration.

When rescuers arrived, they found thousands dead, instead. 
Funeral pyres were set up all around the city, and burned for
weeks. 

Since then, over the following century, the city has built up a 17-foot
high seawall, and raised the city some 4-5 meters with dredged
sand.  The seawall itself has become a tourist attraction, and
hotels and other tourist sites have been built along its length…
buildings along the main Galveston Strand are marked to indicate they
survived the hurricane.  So far, this has sufficed…

Losing to nature

“Nature will win if we decide that we can beat it.” –Bill Read, from the documentary  Isaac’s Storm

The pending storm produced by Hurricane Rita
boasts sea surges of over 30 feet (some have suggested 50), making the
seawall seem rather slender protection.  Galveston has built out
towards the water, not back away from it; and the whole city has fled
before the potential disaster. 

If history is any indicator, it will take another storm of similar size to change anyone’s habitation habits.  But perhaps architects and developers will learn to be more respectful to nature in laying out groundplans and designing seaside retreats.

The Galveston Hurricane of 2005 …


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