The September 8, 1900, hurricane that ravaged Galveston, Texas, and left thousands dead was, in one author's words, "a tempest so terrible that no words an adequately describe its intensity.
Written and oral accounts by its survivors provide a permanent record of their horror at the carnage they witnessed, as well as their harrowing escapes from the clutches of the storm.
Galveston's Rosenberg Library, long noted for its fine archives of local and early Texas history, holds many accounts of the storm. Some were recorded in the days and months immediately following the disaster; others were put down after many years had passed.
The letters, memoirs, and oral histories that follow allow the survivors to tell -- in their own words -- what they witnessed and experienced during the worst recorded natural disaster ever to befall the United States.
One of the thirty-three accounts is a letter written by John D. Blagden to his family in Duluth, Minnesota, while serving a temporary assignment at the Galveston Weather Bureau office away from his permanent station in Memphis, Tennessee. Aside from Isaac Cline's personal report, Blagden's letter is the only other account at the Rosenberg Library of someone stationed at the Weather Bureau office.
To All at home
Very probably you little expect to get a letter from me from here but here I am alive and without a scratch. That is what few can say in this storm swept City. I have been here two weeks, to take the place of a man who is on a three months leave, after which I go back to Memphis.
Of course you have heard of the storm that passed over this place last Friday night, but you cannot realize what it really was. I have seen many severe storms but never one like this. I remained in the office all night. It was in a building that stood the storm better than any other in the town, though it was badly damaged and rocked frightfully in some of the blasts. In the quarter of the city where I lodged (south part) everything was swept and nearly all drowned. The family with whom I roomed were all lost. I lost everything I brought with me from Memphis and a little money, but I think eighty Dollars will cover my entire loss: I am among the fortunate ones.
The Local Forecast Official, Dr. Cline, lives in the same part of the City and his brother (one of the observers here) boarded with him. They did not fare so well. Their house went with the rest and were out in the wreckage nearly all night. The L O F (Dr. Cline) lost his wife but after being nearly drowned themselves they saved the three children. As soon as possible the next morning after the waters went down I went out to the south end to see how they fared out there. I had to go through the wreckage of buildings nearly the entire distance (one mile) and when I got there I found everything swept clean. Part of it was still under water.
I could not even find the place where I had been staying. One that did not know would hardly believe that that had been a part of the city twenty-four hours before. I could not help seeing many bodies though I was not desirous of seeing them. I at once gave up the family with whom I stayed as lost which has proved true as their bodies have all been found, but the Clines I had more confidence in in regard to their ability to come out of it. I soon got sick of the sights out there and returned to the office to put things in order as best I could. When I got to the office I found a note from the younger Cline telling me of the safety of all except the Drs. wife. They were all badly bruised from falling and drifting timber and one of the children was very badly hurt and they have some fears as to her recovery.
Mr. Broncasiel, our printer, lives in another part of the town that suffered as badly is still missing and we have given him up as lost. There is not a building in town that is uninjured. Hundreds are busy day and night clearing away the debris and recovering the dead. It is awful. Every few minutes a wagon load of corpses passes by on the street.
The more fortunate are doing all they can to aid the sufferers but it is impossible to care for all. There is not room in the buildings standing to shelter them all and hundreds pass the night on the street. One meets people in all degrees of destitution. People but partially clothed are the rule and one fully clothed is an exception. The City is under military rule and the streets are patrolled by armed guards.
They are expected to shoot at once anyone found pilfering. I understand four men have been shot today for robbing the dead. I do not know how true it is for all kind of rumors are afloat and many of them are false. We have neither light, fuel or water. I have gone back to candles. I am now writing by candlelight.
A famine is feared, as nearly all the provisions were ruined by the water which stood from six to fifteen feet in the streets and all communication to the outside is cut off.
For myself, I have no fear. I sleep in the office. I have food to last for some time and have water, and means of getting more when it rains as it frequently does here and besides I have made friends here who will not let me starve. We had warning of the storm and many saved themselves by seeking safety before the storm reached here. We were busy all day Thursday answering telephone calls about it and advising people to prepare for danger. But the storm was more severe than we expected.
Dr. Cline placed confidence in the strength of his house. Many went to his house for safety as it was the strongest built of any in that part of the town, but of the forty odd who took refuge there less than twenty are now living.
I have been very busy since the storm and had little sleep but I intend to make up for sleep tonight. I do not know how or where I can send this but will send it first chance. Do not worry on my account.
Ida Smith Austin, best known for her Bible class at First Presbyterian Church in Galveston, which she founded in 1884, lived with her husband, Valery E. Austin, at 1502 Avenue D.
November 6, 1900
The story of Galveston's tragedy can never be written. Galveston! the beautiful Island city is hardly recognizable today. A storm had been predicted for Friday night the seventh of September, but so little impression did it make on my mind that a most beautiful and well attended moonlight fete was given at our home Oak Lawn that night.
I was busy about my domestic affairs Saturday rearranging my house...when I heard a man who ran up the street exclaim, "My God! The waters of the ay and gulf have met on Fifteenth Street." I went on the gallery to realize that what he said was only too true. But I felt no uneasiness and remarked to my niece, "We have nothing to fear, the water has never been over our place," and I just felt that it could not come. In a few minutes we heard the lapping of the salt water against the side-walk, and then it slowly crept into the yard.
In an incredibly short time the water surged ver the gallery driven by a furiously blowing wind. Trees began to fall, slate shingles, planks and debris of every imaginable kind were being hurled through the air. We brought our cow on the gallery to save her life but soon had to take her in the dining room where she spent the night. Ten very large trees were soon uprooted and fell crashing, banging, and scraping against our house. We opened all downstairs and let the water flow through. Soon it stood three feet in all the rooms.
The wind seemed to
grow more furious reaching the incredible velocity of one hundred and
twenty miles an hour. Blinds were torn off windows, frames, sash and all
blown in, and the rain water stood an inch and a half on upstairs floors.
Then slowly dripped through taking paper and plastering from ceilings
in rooms below.
Published in conjunction with the City of Galveston 1900 Storm Committee.
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