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Katrina and the Lessons of Galveston

Wea00589In the comments, a reader named Tim (the same fellow who provided the clear anaylsis of how levees break) provides this lucid presentation of the Galveston disaster and its relationship to our current disaster. (Photos from NOAA.)

We are witness to a terrible disaster beyond any in US history, with the single exception of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane in which 6,000 to 8,000 or more people died when a hurricane storm surge swept over the island.

Sadly, many of those people died because of one man -- Isaac Cline.

Isaac Cline was the chief meteorologist of the US Weather Service Bureau in Galveston in 1900.

He advised the citizens of Galveston that the island was not in danger of being overwashed by the storm surge, and also believed that his home, which he constructed, was "hurricane proof." He also opposed the buiding of a seawall to protect Galveston.

Wea00588Sadly, he was wrong on all counts. Although he survived the storm surge, his house along with his wife and many who had sought refuge in it did not.

Some see Cline as a proud, arrogant man who refused to believe a hurricane of such intensity could sweep across the island as it did. Further, he stridently discouraged plans to build a seawall to protect Galveston from storm surges. Based largely on his advice, the city decided not to build the seawall.

Cline, whatever his true place in history, bore the distinction of being the one man most blamed for the disaster.

To his later credit, he devoted much time and energy to encouraging others to implement protective measures, many of which were responsible for saving New Orleans and other Mississippi cities from later disastrous storm surges.

Galveston built its seawall soon after the 1900 storm, and it served to protect them against a similar hurricane years later.

If there are lessons to be learned here that ar relevant to the Katrina disaster, I suppose that the failure of imagination on the parts of Cline, the city officials and the NWS which are parallel to the lack of preparations in New Orleans in light of all the well known risks posed to N.O. by hurricanes may be the most important lesson of all.

As regards the sad state of affairs in New Orleans and Mississippi, there appears to be an ongoing failure of imagination, or more to the fact, a failure to realize and respond.

Yes, it is very sad and very bad what has happened and what is still happening. Will we ever get over it? I hope the victims, the survivors will, in the sense of recovering and going forth with their lives.

I hope we, the rest of the country as well as the city, state and federal agencies and governments, do not "get over" it, meaning I hope we learn and remember and work to prevent a recurrence of such disasters on the gulf coast as well as all other locales.Wea00583

The sadness does pass in time, or diminish some. Anger, too. But the memory remains, most strongly for those who suffered. As for the rest of us, we owe it to them to remember as well.

I don't know if this helps you any, but we have come through many trials before and emerged to carry on, and with knowledge sore learned, we often carry on better than before.

So it has been, and so it will be again. History bears witness to this, yet each time we are presented with a new chance to do better. So, pray for the suffering and hope for the future, and always remember.

Via email, he also suggests some links:

I suppose I should add that my ancestors tended go through immigration in Galveston, not Ellis Island. I do not know whether I am directly related to any of those who perished in the 1900 hurricane, but it is not unlikely given the place and time.