Tuesday, September 8, 2009

1900 Storm Still a Testament to Ferocity and Violence of a Hurricane

On the weekend of Sept. 8, 1900, an unnamed storm covered Galveston in a 12-foot storm surge, washing away two-thirds of the city's buildings and killing thousands.

More than forty years ago, John Edward Weems sat down with surviviors of the storm. His book, Weekend in September, recreates that fateful weekend as it was experienced by those who were actually there.

An excerpt:

Saturday (Sept. 8), 4:00-6:00 P.M.

Caught in a Trap

By Four O'Clock, thirteen-year-old Jim Moore and a brother and sister were being pushed in a bathtub toward Unger's grocery, a block away from their home. Jim's father and mother, with a neighbor's help, guided the tub. After proceeding about half a block they reached a comparatively shallow section, and Jim was able to get out and walk.

The Moores had never eaten their dinner, and the table was still set when they abandoned their home. After helping Ephraim Moore unload the groceries, the family had thought of little else except the weather. With the water still rising in the early afternoon, they had brought the groceries from on top of the hay in the basement to the first floor. Then they had taken about 100 frightened chickens, one by one, from roosts in the flooded coop in the back yard to the safety of a second-floor bedroom.

"What'll I do with the dog?" Jim Moore had asked his father after the chickens had been carried upstairs.

"Put him with the chickens!"

After Moore had seen the groceries and chickens safely into the house, he came inside, took off his vest, and hung the garment on a chair. He put the 300 dollars collected for groceries in a bag in the dresser drawer. (Moore never saw the money again.) Then a neighbor came over through the water and asked Moore to help him move his family out of the house.

Moore obliged. He helped the neighbor rip out a copper lined wood bathtub and helped guide the tub, the family in it, through the water to a safer house. After the neighbor's family had gone inside, Moore asked the man to help him evacuate his own family. But the neighbor refused.

"If you don't come help me," Moore told him, "you'll never live to join your family inside that house."

The man pondered the matter for a moment. Finally he chose to help push the tub carrying Moore's three children to Unger's grocery.
Unger's was packed when they arrived. People from several blocks around had gathered there to wait out the storm. At least one soldier from Fort Crockett, about fourteen blocks away, had sought refuge there.

Jim's brother, Walton, had worn his bathing suit over to the grocery store, and now the girls in the crowd were teasing him about it. Walton was abashed, so he slipped out, hoping his parents would not notice, went back home, put on his clothes, and made his way back to Unger's.

Meanwhile, Walter P. Fisher, prescription clerk at a downtown drugstore, was leaving the store to see about his family. Fisher was only halfway home when some men inside a house saw him staggering along the street. Hurriedly, they rescued him from the water. Fisher was near a state of collapse, but after resting inside the house for a few minutes, he insisted on continuing.

"If anything happens to me," he said before he departed, "tell my wife I tried to reach her."

He died in the storm, after going only a short distance. Probably he would have been unable to reach his house anyway; it was so near the beach that, at the height of the storm, it collapsed. Fisher's wife and three children all lost their lives.