OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895


4:00 P.M.

January 18, 2001

Hurricanes Are Bad

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by Larry H. Hendon

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library

Hurricanes Are Bad

This 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

Born:             May 14, 1919

Raised:             Murray, KY, Long Beach, U.S. Navy, Redlands

Education:               High School Long Beach Wilson High

            Bachelors degree study:  Murray State College, UCLA,

            University of Redlands

            Masters Business Administration, University of Southern California

Family:             Wife, Mary Frances Walker Hendon

            Children, Catherine, James, Barbara, Genny

Professional careers:

            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

Community Participation:

            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

In 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.

A 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 escaped damage.

A 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 subside.

The 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.

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."

That 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.

Citizens 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.

At 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.

By 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.

St. 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.

Erick 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.

At 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.

The 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.

The 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."

For 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.

Isaac 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.

In 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.

Later the storm developed into a terrible disaster. The city was hit by 120 mile winds and a tremendous rain and lightning storm.

On 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 island.

One of the reasons for our interest in Erik Larson's retelling of the events of Galveston hurricanepath.jpg (150643 bytes)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.

 Grandma Walker tells about it:

"Before 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."

"All the stock was taken from the barns and turned loose in our pasture. Next morning the stock barn was a pile of planks."

"As darkness settled down, we lighted the lamps and listened to the storm increase in its fury."

"Our 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."

"The 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."

 "The storm was so fierce that we were soon separated from each foliage it was possible to find some shelter from the wind and rain."

"Soon 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 missing."

"The 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."

"We wondered what to do. our house was wrecked, Byron and Clete were still missing and everyone was exhausted."

"Then we noticed that the wind was dying down and streaks of dawn were in the sky. The storm might be over."

"Across 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."

"Mr. 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."

Clete 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."

"Many 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."

Grandma Walker added one afterthought:

"Unless 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.

At 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 son.

Mrs. Heideman had her baby. She was reunited with her son. She never saw her husband again.

Soon 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.

In 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 ceased.

He 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.

At 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.

I'm 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.

In 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.

If the submarine was under water we were faster and equipped with torpedoes, rockets and depth charges.

Our 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.

In 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.

Our 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.

Remembering 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.

You 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.

Not 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Isaac 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.

He heard a shout.

It 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.

Their 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.

A miracle had occurred, Isaac knew. He and his three children had survived. His wife was still missing.

Horrible 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.

On 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.

The 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.

Once again Willis Moore had let the expected obscure the real.

Somewhere 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.

Instead he got the destructive Galveston wind storm that tore his company apart.

The 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.

On 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 hour.

As 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 Canada.

The 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.

Galvestonians 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.

This 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.

Galveston 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.

The massive undertaking was not finished until 1910.

Today, 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.

But "nature in the raw is seldom mild" so take the advice of Isaac Cline, Grandma Walker and me, "stay away from hurricanes."


Erik Larson: Isaac's Storm (1999)

(I have copied much of the paper from this source.)

Mary Francis Lawson Walker: I Remember, I Remember (1865-1957)

Weatherwise Magazine: The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900

Andrew Robinson:            Earth Shock Hurricanes. Volcanos, Earthquakes

Tornadoes; and other forces of nature

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