LAWRENCE: People learn to accept being in a hurricane’s pathA hurricane was spinning in the gulf that day, and my friend Jim wasn’t going to listen to any argument.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
A hurricane was spinning in the gulf that day, and my friend Jim wasn’t going to listen to any argument.
It was time to get off the island, he said.
Jim lived on the mainland, while I was in a small house a block off the seawall in Galveston. He insisted I go with him.
The storm came close that night in 1985, but by early morning it had turned away from Galveston and slammed into another part of the Texas coast.
People who lived on or near Galveston, a city on Galveston Island, a thin spit of sand along the Texas coast, have a special reason to beware of the storms. No American city has ever been struck as hard as it.
On Sept. 8, 1900, a powerful hurricane inundated the island. Winds of at least 145 mph swept through the city, and the entire isle went under water at one point.
Anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 people perished; the most commonly used figure is 8,000, but no one knows for sure.
The tragic story is best told in “Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History,” by Erik Larson.
Isaac Cline was the chief meteorologist at the Galveston office of the U.S. Weather Bureau from 1889 to 1901. Larson does an excellent job of telling the story of the deadliest natural disaster in American history, using Cline’s personal story and the tragedy that befell him.
This current hurricane and tropical storm also bears the name Isaac, so it brought my years in Galveston even more to the fore.
When I moved to Galveston in 1985, the city was in rough shape. It had been dubbed “The Wall Street of the South” before the 1900 storm hit, but it never reclaimed that lofty title.
Instead, a small city on the mainland became the business hub of the area. You’ve heard of it: Houston.
Galveston became a sleepy tourism town, although its economy has picked up and it was bustling when I was last there in 2005.
But in the 1980s, people who were called BOI (Born On the Island), said Galveston was still recovering from the hurricane more than four score before.
So it’s easy to see why hurricanes cause a lot of concern for people who have been through them, or know of their impact on their cities, towns and lives.
I went through a couple more hurricane scares when I lived there, but none landed on the island. I recall working at Gaido’s seafood restaurant once as a storm moved closer to the island.
People had an interesting reaction when hurricanes drew near every fall. They became almost giddy, stocking up on groceries and booze.
Hurricane parties were common events. There’s a reason the drink is named for the storm — people like to tempt fate and laugh in the face of the winds and stinging rain.
Sometimes, it ends up not being very funny. The 1900 Galveston storm was the most severe example, but hurricanes have torn up land and killed people for eons, and there is no way to stop them. The people who live in their shadow learn to accept it.
Every time a storm comes near Galveston, reporters interview the brave, the foolish and the drunk who promise to tough it out.
The Poop Deck, a bar with a nautical theme, celebrates the storms with stiff drinks and foolhardy customers. Trying to make sense of it is useless. It’s like Jimmy Buffett sang in “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season:”
“Squalls out on the gulf stream Big storm’s comin’ soon I passed out in my hammock And God I slept till way past noon Stood up and tried to focus I hoped I wouldn’t have to look far I knew I could use a bloody Mary So I stumbled next door to the bar”
I don’t recommend partying instead of planning in case you end up in the path of a hurricane. Of course, those of us from the Great Plains know about dodging and dealing with tornadoes and blizzards. In 1969, Buffett spent most of a year in Brookings, he told me when I was lucky enough to hang out with him backstage in Houston during a 1987 show. He liked the area and the people, but a tornado came through that tossed his trailer home around. Buffett headed back south the next day, willing to face the kind of storm he knew best.