Live

Watch CBSN Live

'Ohh, It Was An Awful Thing'

It came out of the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, gentle surf suddenly building into monstrous waves and howling winds and water rising four feet in four seconds.

It came with little warning on a cloudy Saturday, smothering 10,000 people within hours and demolishing every building that stood in its way.

As CBS News Anchor Dan Rather reports, "it" was a hurricane, the likes of which the island city of Galveston, Texas, had never seen before — or, thankfully, in the exactly 100 years that have passed since.

It was the nation's deadliest disaster.

Trending News

Galveston resident Mike Doherty's relatives were there. As he tells it, they sought shelter in what must have seemed a pretty safe place: a factory.

"They went to the second story and the water all rose again so they all got in the attic," Doherty said, "and then the tidal surge really got bad and came in … and the building really began to move."

And no wonder: the tidal surge from the mammoth waves was 15.7 feet when the tallest point in the city was 8.7 feet, Doherty said.

The building didn't last long.

"It just kept being beat by the waves and just pushed and pushed and finally broke up to some degree," he said. "The roof came off."

Like thousands of Galvestonians, Doherty’s grandparents and great-grandparents were left floating, holding onto wreckage. The island of 38,000 was completely submerged.

Battered by winds of more than 130 miles per-hour, Izola Collins’ relatives found refuge in a school. Collins' great-aunt Annie McCullough was 22 when the hurricane hit. She never forgot the panic in the streets.

In a first-person account recorded when she was 95, McCullough recalled someone shouting, "Don’t say nothing, get these children out of here!"

"The winds had picked up very high and as she described, the men were trying to hold the doors," Collins said.

"All they could do was stand against those doors and hold ‘em, keep ‘em from blowin’ open," McCullough said in her narrative.

When the storm ended, the 28,000 or so survivors who had managed to ride the waves until they receded found bitter destruction not again rivaled until, perhaps, the Second World War.

"Ohh, it was an awful thing…you want me to tell you but, no tongue can tell it!" McCullough said.

Bodies were everywhere.

And burying the bodies proved impossible. The ground was simply too soaked. So the survivors gathered them onto barges and tried to bury them at sea.

"They were taking dead people from different places tied up like wood," McCullough said.

But the bodies washed ashore. Finally, the townspeople burned them.

The storm had ended, and in its wake Galveston's remaining citizens built a seawall 17 feet tall and eventually 10 miles wide. Then they filled in the city behind it, actually raising the elevation of the city an average five feet.

Since then, no storms s deadly have hit the city. In fact, since that September day 100 years ago, more than 300 major storms have come ashore in this country. The Galveston hurricane killed more people than all the storms that followed it put together.

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

View CBS News In