AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

Technology Will Prevent Another Great Galveston Hurricane

By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest

The Gulf Coast and much of the southeastern United States have been battered by an almost relentless parade of tropical storms this Atlantic hurricane season.

Of the 10 storms that have struck the U.S. so far this year, five of them have been hurricanes, including the latest, Hurricane Delta, according to WFTV channel 9 in Orlando.

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Three deaths were attributed to the storm. About 350,000 residents were still without power two days after Delta blew ashore as a Category 2 hurricane near the Gulf Coast town of Creole, Fox News on Monday.

Roughly 850 people were in shelters because of Delta.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced Sunday that two persons had died. One was an 86-year-old man from St. Martin Parish who perished in a fire that started after he refueled a power generator in a shed. The other was a 70-year-old woman in Iberia Parish who also died in a fire likely caused by a natural gas leak following damage from the storm.

The Miami Herald said Florida officials also reported a third death related to Hurricane Delta, the AP added. A 19-year-old tourist from Illinois drowned Saturday after being caught in a rip current unleashed by the remnants of Delta in the Gulf Coast.

The latest hurricane struck a part of Louisiana that was still devastated by Hurricane Laura’s 150 mph onslaught on August 27. The strongest hurricane to hit the state since 1851, Laura was blamed for 32 deaths, “many of them caused in the storm’s aftermath by carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.”

More than 8,000 Louisiana residents who evacuated because of Laura were still in shelters as of Sunday, Edwards said.

Early Warning Systems Prevented a Higher Death Toll from Hurricane Laura

The death toll from these storms might have been much higher but for the early warning systems in place today, including satellite imaging, computer modeling and remote monitoring. And of course there are ships at sea and specially equipped aircraft that fly into the eye of these storms to report on their motion and intensity.

“As the storm approaches within about 450 km (280 mi) of the coast, land-based radars provide critical precipitation and wind velocity data, the National Hurricane Center explains. “Once the storm has made landfall, Automated Surface Observations Stations (ASOSs) and instrumented weather balloons provide additional measurements.”

Data transmitted back to the NHC is checked for errors and given both to NHC forecasters and the public.

The NHC, based in Miami, correctly predicted Laura’s landfall location and time 87 hours in advance. That allowed for a more or less orderly evacuation, time to board up homes and businesses, and prepare for temporary housing and other assistance for those who did not leave.

Galveston, Texas, Residents Weren’t So Lucky When the Great Galveston Storm Came Ashore

However, residents of the Gulf Coast city of Galveston, Texas, weren’t as lucky on the night of September 8, 1900. That’s when the Great Galveston storm came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane. It remains the deadliest natural disaster and the worst hurricane in U.S. history.

Weather forecasting was primitive in those days. Citizens and local officials relied on spotty reports from ships stationed in the Gulf of Mexico. Citizens of Galveston – none of whom it’s safe to say had a radio – could see that a storm brewing offshore, but they had no idea of its size, destructive power or where it would make landfall. And the Wright brothers’ first manned flight was still three years away.

The U.S Weather Bureau was just 10 years old then and “erroneously predicted that the storm would take a sharp turn north and hit Florida. No warnings for the people of Galveston.”

Some Estimates Put the Death Toll at 6,000, One-Sixth of the City’s Population

The unnamed hurricane swept in from the Gulf with an estimated tidal surge of 15 feet, so high that it swallowed the narrow barrier island on which Galveston sits just five feet above sea level. Hundreds of people survived by taking shelter on the top floors of the Tremont Hotel, the highest building on the island. Whole blocks of homes were completely swept away and thousands of people were killed. Some estimates put the death toll at 6,000, one-sixth of the city’s population.

Many of the dead were buried at sea, only to have their bodies wash ashore when the tide rolled in. They were then burned for public health reasons.

Typical of the death and destruction was the sad story of the St. Mary’s Orphanage, as recounted in the Galveston County Daily News report, 1900 Storm. Among the dead were 10 sisters and 90 children from the orphans’ home operated by the Sisters of Charity.

At the orphanage, the children and sisters heard the crash of the boys’ dormitory as it collapsed. The bottom fell out and the roof came crashing down, trapping those inside. The building was lifted off its foundation and carried away by the floodwaters.

The sisters tried to save the children by cutting clothesline rope into sections and tying it around the children’s waists. Each sister tied several children to herself. “It was a valiant, yet sacrificial effort to save the children. Some of the older children climbed onto the roof of the orphanage,” the 1900 Storm said.

In the detailed account, three boys who had been tied together on a tree wound up in the rushing storm waters. “After floating for more than a day, they were eventually able to make their way into town where they told the sisters what had happened.”

They were the only survivors from the orphanage. “The sisters were buried wherever they were found, with the children still attached to them.”

Before the storm Galveston was the most advanced city in Texas. It had “the biggest port, the most millionaires, the swankiest mansions, the first telephones and electric lights.”

Galveston had a pre-storm population of 36,000, but it never regained its lofty status as the biggest city in Texas.

David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies.

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