The fate of Galveston, Texas: The hurricane disaster of 1900

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Mr James G Timmins Escaped from that City and Tells of the Hurricane’s Effect

The Waves' Caprice - the only remaining house near the beach for miles - Galveston Disasater, Texas

Four Thousand Buildings Have Been Destroyed, Most of Them Residences; the Ritter Building Collapsed and Nine Prominent Men Were Killed — A Water Famine Now Threatens and Provisions Scarce

Mr James G Timmins, who resides at 1918 Texas Avenue, Houston, and who is the general superintendent of the National Compress company, arrived in the city last night at 8 o’clock from Galveston, one of the first to reach here with tidings of the great disaster which has befallen that city, and the greatness of that disaster he can not tell in all its horror because of his endeavors to get home.

After staying through the hurricane of Saturday, Saturday night, and Sunday morning, he got away on a schooner about noon yesterday came across the bay to Morgan Point where he caught the train and came to Houston.

The hurricane, Mr Timmins said, was the worst ever known. The estimates made by citizens of Galveston was that 4000 houses, most of them residences, have been destroyed, and that at least 1000 people have been drowned, killed or are missing. Some business houses were also destroyed, but most of them stood, though badly damaged.

The city, Mr Timmins says, is a complete wreck so far as he could see from the waterfront and from the Tremont hotel.

Water was blown over the island by the hurricane — the wind blowing at the rate of eighty miles an hour straight from the gulf, and driving the sea water before it in great waves. The gale was a steady one, the heart of it striking the city about 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon and continuing without intermission until 10 o’clock last night when it abated somewhat although it continued to blow all night.

MORE: Photos of the aftermath: Galveston’s killer hurricane and flood (1900)

Of his own knowledge, Mr Timmins knew of only one house succumbing with fatal results, though he heard of many residences going down and carrying their inmates to destruction. The house that he saw go was Ritter’s saloon and restaurant at 2109 Strand, the principal business street of the city; this three story building was blown down and nine prominent men were killed that he knew of and perhaps others.

Among the dead are CHARLES KELLNER, SR., a cotton buyer for an English firm; STANLEY G SPENCER, general manager of the Elder-Dempster steamship line; and RICHARD LORD, manager of the McFaddens, whose body is still in the ruins.

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Trying to survive the Galveston hurricane disaster of 1900

Secretary Baily of the wharf company and several of the waiters and customers saved themselves by jumping from the upper story just before the crash came.

It was reported that the orphan asylum and both the hospitals were destroyed, and if this proves true, the loss of life will be great, as those institutions were generally crowded, and as they were substantial buildings, the chances are that many had taken refuge in them.

The water extended clear across the island. Mr Timmins said that it was three feet deep in the rotunda of the Tremont Hotel, and six feet deep in Market Street. Along the waterfront, the damage was very great — the tops had been blown from all the elevators, and the sheds along the wharves were either wrecked, or had lost their sides and were of no protection to the contents. Most of the small sailing craft was wrecked, and was either piled upon the wharves or was floating bottom side up about the bay.

There is a large steamship ashore three miles north of Pelican Island, but he could not distinguish her name; she was flying a British flag. Another big vessel has been driven ashore at Virginia Point, which is the place at which the railroad bridges start across the bay. Still another he saw hard aground at Texas City, and another at the south point of Houston Island, opposite La Porte. The condition of these vessels Mr Timmins could not speak of as he lost no time in looking into them.

The lightship that marks Galveston Bar is hard and fast aground at Dollar Point. Mr Timmins and the men with him on the schooner rescued two sailors in the middle of the bay who had been in the water for forty-eight hours; these men were foreigners and he could gain no information from them. They saw the wreck of a vessel that looked like a steam tug, but had no time to examine it, and two large vessels floating bottom up were passed.

Coming across the bay, the carcasses of nearly two hundred horses and mules were seen, but not a human body.

Galveston disaster relief party working at Ave. P and Tremont St.

Scenes from the Galveston hurricane disaster of 1900

The scenes during the storm, Mr Timmins said, he could not describe; women and children were crowding into the Tremont hotel where he was seeking for shelter, and all night these unfortunates were bemoaning their losses of kindred and fortune. They were grouped about the stairways and in the galleries and rooms of the hotel.

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What was occurring in other parts of the city, he could not say. The city of Galveston he says is now entirely cut off from communication — the boats are gone, the railroads can not be operated, and the water is so deep that they can not walk out by the way of the bridge across the bay even if that bridge is standing.

Provisions are badly needed, as most people lost all they had. The water works power house was wrecked, and a water famine is threatening as the cisterns were all jammed by the salt water; this he regards as the most serious problem to be faced now. The city is in darkness the electric light plant being among the buildings which have been ruined.

Asked as to the properly damage, Mr Timmins said that there is no way of estimating. So far as he could see or hear, the east end side of the island — the residences which are on the gulf — has been practically wiped out of existence. In the west end, which faces the gulf on another portion of the island, there is about one house standing for twenty blocks.

The beach has been swept clean, the bath houses are all gone, and most of the residences as well. This last was hearsay as he had not been able to get out that far.

Only a few men accompanied Mr Timmins; the boat would hold no more. Asked as to the likelihood of others getting out that way, he said that they were slim, that the people preferred to stay there now that the gale has abated, though the wind was blowing hard when he left.

Looking North from Ursuline Academy, showing wrecked Negro High School Building, Galveston, Texas


Bird’s-eye view of Galveston, showing in foreground the bay side, which was wrecked from shore to shore

Galveston hurricane disaster of 1900: Burning dead bodies


Left: Wreck of the Masonic Temple – Right: This roof was blown half a mile


>> Also see: Photos of the aftermath: Galveston’s killer hurricane and flood (1900)

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