June 1 is the start of hurricane season in the United States. Mention hurricanes in American history, and most thoughts turn to the Galveston hurricane of 1900. And while as of this writing, it remains the deadliest documented weather disaster in American history it is one of many major hurricanes to impact the region.
In fact, it might be argued that hurricanes affected not only the lives of those whose land they hit, but also they affected history. Entire cities, or in some case island, were lost and persons who might have gone on to greatness perished.
Here are just a very few of the major hurricanes that have been recorded:
- July 1502: Christopher Columbus warns of an impending storm but is refused safe mooring in Santa Domingo by Nicholas de Ovando, Governor of Hispanola. Twenty-one of the thirty ships hit by the storm were sunk, resulting in the loss of 500 sailors.
- August 1667: A storm surged through North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland destroying 80% of tobacco and corn crops as well as leveling 15,000 homes.
- October 1780: A hurricane passed through the Caribbean and then turned north to plow through the colonies, finally passing through Newfoundland four days later, leaving as many as 24,000 fatalities in its wake. Because record-keeping only goes back to the 1850s, statistics on this storm are based on eyewitness reports.
- September 1818: Jean Lafitte's pirate encampment at Galveston is battered by a storm that covered the island in four feet of seawater and destroyed all but six buildings erected by the pirate captain and his men
- August 1886 and September 1886: Two storms roughly one month apart battered the Texas coast and effectively ended Indianola, Texas's reign as the leading port city and handing that title to Galveston. The September storm also wiped the city of Sabine Pass, Texas--a close neighbor to my hometown of Port Neches, Texas--off the map. It should be mentioned that Indianola was almost destroyed in 1875 when a hurricane leveled the town. The city rebuilt only to face this disaster almost exactly nine years later.
- September 1900: Galveston, Texas is hit by what was later termed the Storm of the Century, a hurricane that leveled Galveston and then traveled all the way up through Canada emerging back into the Atlantic Ocean. Nurse Clara Barton's efforts have been documented as well as the recovery efforts of many who brought the once-great city back to life after somewhere between 6000 and 12,000 of its citizens were killed. In the process of this recovery, every existing structure in the city was raised by one floor and a great Seawall was built to protect the citizens from further disasters of this magnitude. In addition, an entirely new form of government called the "Galveston plan" emerged.
As a native Texan born in the Gulf Coast region, I cannot remember a time when June 1 wasn't noted with all the respect due a harbinger of bad tidings. Only once during my childhood do I recall evacuating from the path of a hurricane--Hurricane Carla--and as a small child, I thought it great fun to listen to the wind and rain and sleep on my great aunt's sofa while the adults gathered around the radio.
Several times during the past decade, I have spent a night or several in a hotel or in a borrowed room at a relative's home while I watched Giraldo or Anderson Cooper stroll down the streets of my city with microphone and cameraman in tow. Once I returned to find a neighbor's immense pine tree poised on my roof with branches jutting through the ceilings in my kitchen, dining room, and master bedroom. But thanks to insurance companies, competent weathermen, and building contractors, the ultimate impact was minimal.
However, can you imagine not knowing a hurricane was heading your way? What must it have been like for citizens of prior centuries to watch clouds gather and wind howl and not know whether this was a summer storm or a hurricane? How does a farmer or business man from a prior century overcome massive losses to crops, homes, and families? And how long the summer months must have seemed until finally November rolled around!
Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee of forty-five novels with almost two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad. A Romantic Times Top Pick recipient of her novels, Kathleen is a proud military wife and an expatriate Texan cheering on her beloved Texas Aggies from north of the Red River. To find out more about Kathleen or connect with her through social media, check out her website at www.kathleenybarbo.com.