Recalling Galveston's Hurricane Of 1900

Host Liane Hansen speaks with Merri Edwards, a Hurricane Ike evacuee from Galveston, Texas. Edwards is also an historian who has worked with the Galveston County Historical Foundation, and she recounts the devastation of the hurricane of 1900 that killed thousands in Galveston.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Joining us on the phone is Merri Edwards. She evacuated her Galveston home earlier in the week. Merri, where are you now?

Ms. MERRI EDWARDS (Historian; Resident, Galveston County, Texas): I'm in Houston, Texas.

HANSEN: Are you in a hotel?

Ms. EDWARDS: I'm in a Fairfield Inn hotel.

HANSEN: Now, did you feel the effects of Hurricane Ike there in Houston?

Ms. EDWARDS: Oh, yes. The wind and the rain - of course, you know, the rain. The shingles blew off of the hotel, the power went out. My husband and I were in a room on the third floor and had to move down to the second floor because the water started pouring in through the roof in the rooms on the third floor.

HANSEN: My. Your house in Galveston is about half a mile from the beach?

Ms. EDWARDS: That's right.

HANSEN: Any news on its condition?

Ms. EDWARDS: Have not heard a thing. We can't - haven't been able to get hold of anybody in Galveston yet.

HANSEN: Some people were talking about the Galveston flood of 1900, and you're actually a historian. You've given lectures on this topic for the Galveston County Historical Foundation. Tell us just a little bit about that event.

Ms. EDWARDS: There was about a 12 to 15-foot storm surge for that one and, of course, no sea wall. And it wiped out most of the buildings in the city between the Gulf and Broadway.

HANSEN: And I understand it killed over 6,000 people.

Ms. EDWARDS: Yeah, just here. And then it went, you know, made its way up along the East Coast, Eastern Seaboard, and finally blew itself out 10 days to two weeks later east of Greenland. I think that the biggest estimate that I've seen is that it killed over 12,000 people.

HANSEN: Oh.

Ms. EDWARDS: Between 6,000 and 8,000 here, or in Galveston alone.

HANSEN: Yeah. And the sea wall was put in place after the 1900 hurricane, and I mean, it worked, really.

Ms. EDWARDS: It worked. There was a storm in 1915 right after the grade raising was completed and the sea wall was built. And the storm in 1915 was even stronger than the storm in 1900, and the sea wall proved its worth.

HANSEN: Yeah. It must have been interesting for you to watch that water coming over the sea wall.

Ms. EDWARDS: It really was. I kept thinking about the 1900 storm and thinking that, you know, what it must have to have been like for the people there - people, you know, that were - fought that water all night long.

HANSEN: Yeah. What's next for you? When do you plan to get back to Galveston?

Ms. EDWARDS: Well, as soon as they let us in.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Ms. EDWARDS: We're without any power, so we don't have any television. We have a crank radio we've been listening to, but there's not much information coming from Galveston on it, which is very, very frustrating.

HANSEN: What are your thoughts about the future? Are you going to stay in Galveston and rebuild?

Ms. EDWARDS: I don't know. I don't know what I'm going to find when I get there, if we still have a house or how, you know, and what kind of damage there is. There were some fires, and I don't know where the fires were, if they were in our neighborhood. Right now we just - I just don't know.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Ms. EDWARDS: My husband and I have talked for a couple of years about moving, and one of the things that he has always kind of gotten hung up on was just the idea of moving 20 years or 50 years of stuff, you know, packing it all up and moving it. And I said, well, you know, if we've lost everything, at least we can put everything we own in the car and go. So, that's, you know, about all you can do.

HANSEN: Merri Edwards is an evacuee from Galveston, Texas. She joined us on the line from a hotel north of Houston. Thanks a lot, Merri. Best of luck to you.

Ms. EDWARDS: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: We will be following Merri Edwards' story in the next two weeks on our blog as she and her family discover what remains of their home and belongings back in Galveston. To share your Hurricane Ike story and to follow Merrie's, go to npr.org/soapbox.

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