With tens of thousands of Texans along the Gulf Coast forced from their homes by the flooding of Hurricane Harvey, I consider myself lucky to have only seen the destruction from afar and by way of news reports.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane last week, near the coastal city of Rockport. The storm caused extensive damage to the area it first struck but the torrent it has since unleashed on the Houston area is something this nation has never seen.
Harvey was stalled by areas of stable high atmospheric pressure, and, as a result, the storm has dropped more than 52 inches of rain on the area in a matter of days — rainfall totals never seen before on the continent of North America. More than a dozen people have been killed by the storm and thousands have sought rescue and refuge.
With images of the flooding and devastation pouring in, it’s hard for me not to think of an even deadlier hurricane that struck the city of Galveston in September 1900. The storm was chronicled in the nonfiction book “Isaac’s Storm” by Erik Larson, which follows Isaac Cline, the U.S. Weather Bureau’s chief meteorologist in Galveston. Cline begins to track a storm system developing over the Gulf of Mexico and raised his concerns that it will track toward Texas. But an overconfident U.S. Weather Bureau, still in the early days of meteorology, predicted the storm would take a different course and hit Florida.
As Cline grimly predicted, the storm made landfall on Galveston Island as a category 4 hurricane. The city was caught off guard and was devastated by the high winds and flooding. An estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people died. The storm remains the deadliest in U.S. history.
In Hurricane Harvey, I hear the echoes of the 1900 storm that struck Galveston. While it’s clear that the human cost of Harvey is far less severe, the economic and humanitarian impact is likely to be on a scale our nation has never seen before.
Galveston reacted with infrastructure projects to improve safety on the island and did so by raising the island 17 vertical feet and building a 10-mile-long sea wall.
My hope that the men and women of this country would respond with aid, generosity and compassion has been confirmed and made evident in the tireless rescue and relocation efforts underway. But the impact of this disaster will be felt for many more years. With that in mind, my hope is that Americans will continue to support the victims and that the damage of yesterday and today can help us improve our weather prediction, city planning, and disaster preparedness — lives forever changed and lives lost hang in the balance.
Happy birthday Thursday to Maci Cook of Greenville; Eric Gillespie of Hurst; Shimeka Yvonne Sommers, Betty Hepner, Debbie Hopper, and Kellie Parker, all of Sherman; Brock Tillett of Tom Bean; and Grace Moore of Pottsboro.
Happy anniversary Thursday to David and Connie Miller of Denison, 40 years.