January 18, 2001
Hurricanes Are Bad
by Larry H. Hendon
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public
Hurricanes Are Bad
is a story of hurricanes: One experienced by Isaac Cline as told by Eric Larson in a
recent best seller. It is the story of the Galveston Hurricane in September 1900; another
experienced by Mary Francis Walker and family who lived on the Texas mainland close to
Galveston in 1900; and the third experienced by the author as the captain of a small 175
foot patrol craft in World War II. All agree that Hurricanes are scary and terrible.
Autobiography of Larry H. Hendon
May 14, 1919
Murray, KY, Long
Beach, U.S. Navy, Redlands
School Long Beach Wilson High
Bachelors degree study: Murray State
University of Redlands
Masters Business Administration, University of Southern California
Frances Walker Hendon
Children, Catherine, James, Barbara, Genny
U.S. Navy, retired as Lt. Comdr. (Reserve) 1940 - 1945
University of Redlands, Alumni Director, Treasurer,
Chief Business Officer 1948 - 1975
County of San Bernardino, Executive Officer L.A.F.C.
1975 - 1985
Redlands "Man of the Year" 1963, President Chamber
of Commerce, President, Redlands Community Hospital,
United Way Allocations Committee.
Director, City of Redlands Diamond Jubilee.
U of R Honors, 1955, 1988.
Hurricanes Are Bad
August of 1900 a prolonged heat wave gripped the nation. Strange things happened. The
Bering Sea Glacier began to melt, a plague of crickets covered Waco, Texas. Rain fell on
Galveston Island, South of Texas, in greater intensity than people could remember. Immense
thunderstorms blossomed in Africa and great currents of air converged.
wave of atmospheric turbulence slipped from the West African Coast. Many such waves and
disturbances soon dissipated, this particular one did not. It went on to develop into a
hurricane of great strength. It was the greatest natural disaster ever to strike an
American community - the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. This storm cut Galveston off from
the mainland and completely submerged it under the sea. In Galveston City alone, it killed
8,000 people. It left 6000 survivors bruised and battered. In a 1500 acre area of total
destruction, 2600 homes, nearly half of the homes in the city, were swept out of
existence. Elsewhere, at least 1000 more were reduced to wreckage. Not a single home
hurricane is a whirling storm sometimes several hundred miles across with winds blowing in
a circle 75 to 150 miles per hour. In the center of the storm is a relatively calm area
called the "eye" which moves in the midst of the turbulence. All hurricanes in
the northern hemisphere blow counter clockwise. They develop in tropical regions and move
slowly westward, picking up force and speed as they go. Eventually they turn to the North
toward the pole and as they reach temperate latitudes they usually turn eastward and
winds circling the eye create violent thunderstorms, and drive the ocean water ahead of
the winds in something called a storm surge. In 1900, in weather circles, scientists
thought that generally the chief danger of a hurricane came from wind, but the surge of
water in Texas was equally dangerous. Geographers and weathermen also said that because of
the long gentle slope of the sea bottom of the Gulf, Galveston was safe from the fury of
tropical storms. The storm that proved them wrong was born about 4,000 miles away off the
coast of Africa on or about August 27, 1900. It moved over the Atlantic, the Caribbean and
Cuba, still only a tropical storm. But on September 5 it became a full scale hurricane. It
hit the Florida Keys then turned west and headed straight for Galveston.
is a long narrow island running parallel to the Texas coastline about two miles off shore.
The city's surface in 1900 was only 8 1/2 feet above sea level at its highest point. It
was connected to the mainland by a wagon bridge and three railroad trestles. The city of
37,800 was "a city of splendid homes and broad streets, a city of flowers, of fine
churches, institutions and schools."
was on September 8, 1900. In Galveston, reassured by the belief that a hurricane could not
seriously damage the city, there was celebration. The storm had had a cooling effect on
the weather. Children played in the rising water, hundreds of people gathered at the beach
to marvel at the unusually tall waves and gorgeous pink sky.
were quite unconcerned in the beginning of the storm, even though those coming home for
lunch at noon waded in sea water up to their waist in some places.
2:30 pm, the area of beach front stores and cottages began to break up and water from the
Bay covered the Bay Bridge and train trestles cutting off escape to the mainland.
4:00 pm, the wind reached hurricane force, 84 to 120 MPH and the debris, caused from the
wind and tide was racing in the current
across Galveston from east to west.
Mary's orphanage housed 93 children, ten nuns, and a workman. It stood on the beach west
of the city. As the water rose, the sisters tied the children into rope chains in groups
of 9, tying each group to one sister. They all were lost in the storm.
Larson has written a best seller recently called Isaac's Storm,
and it provides an excellent coverage of the Galveston Hurricane. That story provides the
background for this paper. His central character is Isaac Cline, the official weatherman
in Galveston. Isaac was among those who believed that Hurricanes would turn North before
reaching Galveston and he simply couldn't believe the severity of the storm when it hit.
He also had unwavering faith in the ability of his big two story house to withstand any
storm and people from his neighborhood, about 50 in all, crowded into his house. Included
was his wife Cora, who was 8 months pregnant, and his three daughters.
6:30 pm, Isaac, ever the observer, walked to the front door to take a look outside. He
opened his door upon a fantastic landscape. Where once there had been streets lined with
houses, there was open sea, punctured here and there by telephone poles, second stories,
and roof tops. He saw no waves, however.
fact that he saw no waves was ominous. Behind his house,closer to the beach, the sea had
erected an escarpment of wreckage three stories tall and several miles long. It contained
homes and parts of homes: it carried buggies, pianos, privies, phonographs, wicker
furniture, and of course, corpses - hundreds of them, perhaps thousands.
escarpment shoved before it immense sections of the street car trestle that once crossed
over the Galveston Gulf. Something else caught Isaacs attention: "I was standing at
my front door, watching the water which was flowing fast from east to west," he said.
"Suddenly, the level of the water rose four feet in just four seconds. This was not a
wave, but the level of the sea itself."
most everyone this was a moment of profound terror. Four feet was taller than most of the
children in the house. Throughout the city people rushed to their children. They lifted
them from the water and propped them on tables, dressers, and pianos. People in single
story houses had no real place of safety.
judged the depth of the water by its position in his house. His yard he knew was 5.2 feet
above sea level. The water was 10 feet above the ground. That meant the tide was 15.2 feet
in his neighborhood - and still rising.
just a few minutes after this sudden rise in the depth of the water, a neighbor observed a
sudden acceleration of the wind. Moments later houses 1/2 block north of Isaac's house
collapsed into the water. The houses fell gracefully at first. One witness said houses
fell into the Gulf "as gently as a mother would lay her infant in the cradle."
It was when the current caught them and swept them away that the violence occurred, with
bedrooms erupting in a tumult of flying glass and wood, rooftop soaring through the air
like monstrous kites.
the storm developed into a terrible disaster. The city was hit by 120 mile winds and a
tremendous rain and lightning storm.
September 9th Galveston was a city of wrecked homes, choked with debris and 6,000 to
10,000 corpses. Hugh swells began to roll in from the Gulf on September 8th and the tide
continued to move across the
of the reasons for our interest in Erik Larson's retelling of the events of Galveston hurricane is that at this same time,
August 1900, my Grandmother-in-law and her family were living on the Texas mainland about
25 miles from Galveston. With the hurricane some 50 miles wide and moving northward, they
were right in its path. My Grandfather-in-law was a reasonably well-to-do salesman
of farming implements, buggies and wagons. The family farm was used for truck farming and
was run by a hired man and several Italian immigrants. The Walkers had five children and
the day of the storm began for them with strong winds. I believe this was August 8, 1900.
Walker tells about it:
noon the rain began to fall, by nightfall the storm had become terrifying, so we knew that
this was not like our usual tropical storms which decreased by sunset."
the stock was taken from the barns and turned loose in our pasture. Next morning the stock
barn was a pile of planks."
darkness settled down, we lighted the lamps and listened to the storm increase in its
Italian gardener who had no family came to our house and was there when Grandad Walker
decided that we should leave the house and go down into the cellar, this proved to be a
wise move. Almost immediately as we entered the cellar, the house was lifted from its
foundation and deposited about thirty feet away."
rain plus the overflow from a large cistern nearby soon drenched us so Mr. Walker gave our
son Byron to Clete (the hired man), asked the Italian to take the other children, then he
lifted me and the baby and we all climbed out of the cellar."
storm was so fierce that we were soon separated from each foliage
it was possible to find some shelter from the wind and rain."
Mr. Walker left me and went in search of the others. on his return he reported that he had
found the Italian worker and the three older children. Byron and Clete were still
Italian and three children had weathered the storm by digging into the leeward side of a
large hay stack and they returned to us safe and sound."
wondered what to do. our house was wrecked, Byron and Clete were still missing and
everyone was exhausted."
we noticed that the wind was dying down and streaks of dawn were in the sky. The storm
might be over."
the road some distance away, we saw our neighbors, the Wilkins, house standing with little
damage. We decided to go there. The Wilkins were in New England, and we had been left in
charge of the house."
Walker built a fire, then left to look for Byron and Clete. After what seemed to be a long
time, we heard voices and we knew that they were safe and that we were all reunited."
reported that the wind had blown them into a large plum tree and that he held Byron
wrapped in a large comforter and had climbed up into the crotch of the tree. There they
had clung until Mr. Walker found them, with Byron completely covered with the comforter
was all right, the little tyke looked out and said, "Wet."
times in my life I have had reason to be thankful, but never in my life have I known
greater thankfulness than the morning after that storm."
Walker added one afterthought:
one has experienced a tropical hurricane, there is no way to understand how terrible the
ordeal can be."
Meanwhile, back at Galveston Island, incredible events continued.
Slate shingles for roofs had fractured skulls and injured
many. Venomous snakes climbed trees already occupied by people, a rocket of timber killed
a horse while it was running at full gallop.
another place, Mrs. William Henry Heideman, eight months pregnant, saw her house collapse
which apparently killed her husband and three-year-old son. She climbed upon a floating
roof. When the roof collided with something else, the shock sent her sliding down into a
floating trunk, which then sailed right into an upper window of the city's Ursuline
Convent. The sisters hauled it inside, put her to bed in one of the convent rooms where
she soon delivered her premature baby. Meanwhile, a man stranded in a tree in the convent
courtyard heard the cry of a small child and plucked him from the current. A heartbeat
later he saw that the child was his own nephew and Mrs. Heideman's lost three-year-old
Heideman had her baby. She was reunited with her son. She never saw her husband again.
the water on Isaac's first floor was over nine feet deep. The wind tore at the house like
a giant's crowbar. The ridge of debris came closer and closer, destroying houses to the
south and east of Isaac's house and casting them against the exterior walls of his house.
Isaac's house trembled but remained firmly rooted to its pilings. Isaac at this point
still believed the house was strong enough to survive the assault. He did not know that
the ridge of debris was now pushing before it a segment of streetcar trestle,
a quarter mile long, consisting of cross ties and timbers held together by its rails.
Dallas, three hundred miles north, the telegraph operator at the Dallas News, sister to
the Galveston News, realized that the steady flow of cables from the Galveston paper had
tried to raise Galveston over public lines by relay through Beaumont, and again by sending
a message to Vera Cruz, Mexico, for relay to Galveston via the Mexican Cable Company.
Again he failed.
that moment City Editor William O'Leary was in the office of the Dallas paper's manager,
G.B. Dealey, showing Dealey a passage in Matthew Fontaine Maury's best selling Physical
Geography of The Sea.
It seemed to show "The destruction of Galveston by tropical storm could not
happen." The wires between Dallas and Galveston remained dead.
sure another reason for our interest in Hurricanes was my own experience with storms
during five years of service in the Navy in World War II.
the big war, after three years service in big ships, I was assigned as Captain of a 175
foot anti-submarine patrol craft. We were assigned to patrol areas known to have enemy
submarine traffic to discourage their being there. There was a standing joke among my crew
and other ships of our size and fire power that we hoped we would never run across a
submarine. If we found one and it surfaced it could stand off beyond the range of our
three inch guns and destroy us with their 5 and 6 inch deck guns.
the submarine was under water we were faster and equipped with torpedoes, rockets and
first experience with hurricanes was on a convoy run between the Panama Canal and the
United States east coast. Heading the convoy was a destroyer and two smaller ships. Only
three members of my crew had ever had sea duty. This was their first major storm so they
all came on watch with a bucket and a wet towel.
a hurricane in the northern hemisphere we were taught to put the wind on our starboard bow
and move out of the hurricane path as soon as we could. The Liberty ships in our convoy
were holding course and speed, so with the wind about 75 miles per hour and waves at
thirty feet and green water breaking over the bridge house,
we moved carefully out of the storm avoiding the loaded merchantmen. The storm must have
been a deterrent because we lost no ships to submarines on that run.
second and only other serious storm was off the Philippine islands, close in time to the
war's end. our assignment was to patrol the Luzon strait between Taipan and the northern
tip of the Philippines. We were advised by the naval weather station of an approaching
monsoon and its location but could not avoid it.
our lesson of keeping the wind on our starboard bow we gradually eased out of the storm.
The most dangerous part
of a storm at sea with mountainous waves is to get caught broadside.
In the middle of the strong wind and waves the ship may roll over or break in two - then
all is lost. In our case, we headed up into the wind and finally got out. The hurricane
went on to the north, east of Taipan. Two destroyers were caught in that storm, rolled
over and were lost.
never get used to green water over the bridge or the way hurricane winds and waves can
toss a ship around like a match stick. But by this time my crew was well-seasoned, so they
took this violent storm experience pretty much in stride.
so the Captain. I sat and watched the crew do its work, made sure we kept the bow up into
the wind, and counted my prayer beads one by one.
back to trials of Isaac Cline. When the trestle and huge pile of debris hit Isaac's house
it broke apart and everyone was thrown into the water, rain fell like shrapnel. Isaac
surfaced and he was alone. His family was gone. There was lightning everywhere. He saw a
child and shimmied free of the timbers and trash in the water and swam hard. He came to
the child and encircled its body with his arm, and knew immediately that it was Esther,
his six year old. His baby. The house continued to break up so he swam away.
and his baby drifted, there was a lot of lightning. He saw three figures hanging tight to
floating wreckage. Isaac with Esther swam toward them against the wind.
heard a shout.
was his brother and his other two children. The group drifted for what seemed to be hours
on a large raft of wreckage. First traveling out to sea, then, when the wind shifted, back
to the city.
raft ran aground at 28th Street and Avenue P only four blocks from where they once lived.
They saw a house nearby with a light on the 2nd floor and climbed inside.
miracle had occurred, Isaac knew. He and his three children had survived. His wife was
destruction had occurred in the harbor, where ships, torn from their moorings, broke apart
and added to the wreckage sweeping across the city. The wind and the water spared some houses. The Ursuline Convent surrounded by a ten foot brick wall survived to shelter 1,000 storm victims.
In the area of total destruction all
that remained was a three mile long mound of wreckage jammed with bodies. Outside, wind
and water had turned the city back into a beach.
Many of the bodies and many survivors
were naked or near naked, their clothes torn off or ripped off by protruding nails, jagged
pieces of wood, broken glass and flying debris of all descriptions. Hundreds of whole
families had perished and almost every family had lost at least one member, an estimated
8,000 to 10,000 survivors were homeless. The bay was clogged with hundreds of human bodies
and the corpses of cows, chickens, horses and dogs were everywhere.
By Monday morning undertaking parlors
and temporary morgues were jammed with bodies. In most cases, identification was
impossible. As more and more bodies were uncovered the survivors began to realize the true
scope of the disaster. Regular burial was impossible. Amass solution was needed and burial
at sea was suggested.
By Monday night 700 bodies had been
hauled to the 12th Street wharf, put on barges and carried out to sea, but this was only a
small part of the problem.
The health of the living demanded
immediate action. On the spot burial or burning were the most practical solutions. On
Tuesday, Galveston became a city of funeral pyres, a pall of smoke hung over the island as
the grim work continued.
October 3rd almost one month after the hurricane, the body of Mrs. Isaac (Cora May) Cline,
identified by her engagement ring, was discovered under the wreckage which had carried her
husband and children to safety. She was buried in the Galveston cemetery.
National Weather Bureau Head was determined to bear no blame for the inaccurate
forecasting of the storm. In a news article, the chief reported that the storm would
gradually end in rain.
again Willis Moore had let the expected obscure the real.
in the heavens over Oklahoma, the storm entered a great low pressure area, it rapidly
regained power and roared north, much to the dismay of A.E. Root, president of a company
that sold beekeeping supplies. He watched his barometer begin to drop "in a very
unusual way", yet all he saw from the weather bureau were forecasts of fair skies.
he got the destructive Galveston wind storm that tore his company apart.
storm brought hurricane-force winds to Chicago and Buffalo, this even after crossing
America's vast midriff. It killed six loggers trying to make their way across the Eau
Claire River and nearly sank a Lake Michigan steamship. It downed so many telegraph lines
that communications throughout the Midwest and Northern tier of the nation came to a halt.
Wednesday night this same storm ravaged Prince Edward Island then burst into the North
Atlantic. Manhattan Island, half a continent south, received winds of sixty five miles an
thousands of men moved into the country to replant telegraph poles and string fallen
cable, reports began to emerge of ship wrecks in the Atlantic. The storm sank six vessels
off Saint-Pierre, six more in Placentia Bay, four at Renews Harbor and drove forty two
fishing vessels aground in the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and mainland
storm raced in a cold and lethal arc across the top of the world until it fell at last
into Siberia and disappeared from human observation.
learned from the hurricane that they needed a sea wall. Flood water of up to 20 feet,
maybe higher, had swept the eastern and southern parts of the city seaward of the
barricade of wrecked homes and debris thrown up by the storm.
barrier had acted like a sea wall, absorbing the terrible destructive force of the waves
and catching wreckage before it could flatten buildings behind the pile where most of the
survivors had taken refuge. So Galveston built a seawall. It was 3.3 miles long and
seventeen feet above mean low tide. It was 16 feet thick at the base and five feet across
the top. It was strengthened against
erosion by a layer of rough granite blocks that extended 27 feet seaward.
also decided to raise the level of the city by
pumping in sand from the floor of the gulf. This meant raising 2,146 buildings, every
house, school, church and store, as well as water pipes, fire hydrants, streetcar tracks,
trees, shrubs, flowers - in short, everything. When this was accomplished, 14 million
cubic yards of sand had been pumped in under the raised structures from a 20-foot deep
canal dug lengthwise through the city behind the sea wall. The street level was raised to
17 feet at the sea wall sloping to 10 feet at Broadway.
massive undertaking was not finished until 1910.
we hear in minute detail from the media when a hurricane is coming. And we expect that at
least in our country today such tragic loss of life will not occur again from a hurricane.
"nature in the raw is seldom mild" so take the advice of Isaac Cline, Grandma
Walker and me, "stay away from hurricanes."
Larson: Isaac's Storm (1999)
have copied much of the paper from this source.)
Francis Lawson Walker: I Remember, I Remember (1865-1957)
Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900
Shock Hurricanes. Volcanos, Earthquakes
and other forces of nature