Galveston 1900: Free Whiskey

In today’s Impromptus column, Jay Nordlinger makes mention of the 1900 Galveston flood that claimed over 6,000 lives and a memorial to the storm victims. A photo of the memorial courtesy of Diamond Biker is here. It’s still too early to assess the full extent of the damage wrought by Ike over the weekend. Here’s a sampling of the aftermath of the 1900 hurricane:

The citizens of Houston knew a powerful storm had blown through and had made ready to provide assistance. Workers set out by rail and ship for the island almost immediately. Rescuers arrived to find the city completely destroyed. It is believed 8,000 people—20% of the island’s population—had lost their lives. Estimates range from 6,000 to 12,000. Most had drowned or been crushed as the waves pounded the debris that had been their homes hours earlier. Many survived the storm itself but died after several days trapped under the wreckage of the city, with rescuers unable to reach them. The rescuers could hear the screams of the survivors as they walked on the debris trying to rescue those they could. A further 30,000 were left homeless.

The bodies were so numerous that burying them all was not possible. The dead were initially dumped at sea; the gulf currents washed the bodies back onto the beach so a new solution was needed. Funeral pyres were set up wherever the dead were found and burned for weeks after the storm. Authorities passed out free whiskey to work crews that were having to throw the bodies of their wives and children on the burn piles. More people were killed in this single storm than the total of those killed in all the tropical cyclones that have struck the United States since. This count is greater than 300 cyclones, as of 2006. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.


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