Natural Disasters That Changed the World – The Galveston Hurricane (1900)

Having struck before the creation of the hurricane naming system and going by various names as a result, the Galveston hurricane is the worst natural disaster in the United States in terms of death toll and second worst in terms of economic damage. Weighing in as a Category 4 storm, the hurricane killed between six-thousand and twelve-thousand people, with most estimates coming close to eight-thousand deaths.

Because it was essentially built on a sandbar, Galveston had withstood many storms. However, on September 4th, the US Weather Bureau warned its Galveston branch that a tropical storm had struck Cuba. At the time there was no sure-fire way of knowing where the storm actually was after leaving Cuba or where it was going, and the Bureau had predicted it was likely to travel east and hit Florida, though Cuban predictions thought it more likely to strike Texas. Turns out, they were right.

The storm surges reached twice as high as Galveston’s highest point above sea level. The entire island was washed over and thirty-six thousand homes were destroyed as a result. Evacuating trains and ferry services were stopped by the wind and rising waters as well as debris carried on the wind. Bridges and telegraph lines were destroyed, and message of the storm’s destruction only reached the mainland when survivors arrived in Houston well after the damage was done.

The storm changed Galveston forever. Though it was successfully rebuilt, Galveston was dealt a serious blow when investors began seeing it as a dangerous place to set up business ventures. Previously, Galveston had been a major port city. By 1920, however, the city reemerged as a popular tourist destination, relying now on the entertainment and “vice” industries to bring in money (and crime). Think of it as a seeder Las Vegas.