On September 8th, 1900, a category 4 hurricane slammed into the city of Galveston Texas without warning. The accompanying 135 mph winds and estimated 15 ft storm surge completely devastated the city and surrounds, and astonishingly; took the lives of 6-12 thousand people (Hurricane Katrina death toll: 1,833). (NOAA, n.d.)
The hurricane (hurricane nomenclature did not exist until 1953) had previously swept across Cuba and meteorologists there had tried to warn the U.S. of its ferocity and potential track across the Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA, n.d.) The U.S. disagreed, and instead proclaimed a track along the eastern seaboard much to their eventual chagrin. (Murnane, 2017)
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The most rudimentary echelons of technology were not available in 1900, (first commercial radio broadcast was in 1920) and even if the correct path had been predicted, any preventative evacuation procedures would have little effect without the efficient mechanisms to disseminate mass warnings. (Murnane, 2017)
Even the recovery efforts were arduously-slow in response, so much so that it morbidly required mass funeral pyres to dispose of the decomposing bodies after weeks of uncoordinated recovery efforts. (Murnane, 2017)
Today, with agencies such NOAA, The National Hurricane Center, NASA, and the Air Force Hurricane Hunters combined with satellite and advanced forecast modelling, hurricanes, although predicted by climatologists to intensify in strength and frequency are tracked proficiently from their cyclonic birth to eventual dissipation.
The languid, disjointed recovery efforts involved with the Galveston catastrophe and the inefficient management of subsequent natural disasters did not prompt the formation of a national emergency agency until the conception of FEMA in 1979. 117 years after the calamitous Galveston hurricane, another category 4 hurricane (Harvey) made an unwelcome return visit to the Galveston coastline, but unlike 1900, FEMA had ample forecasted warnings, and although it claimed over 100 lives, FEMA’s astute evacuation, mitigation, and recovery strategy prevented a repeat of the scale of human desolation experienced in New Orleans in 2005. (FEMA, 2019)