Devastation and Destruction
The devastation of the City in the aftermath of the Storm was indescribable.The whole island was
under any where from 8 to 15 feet of water for several hours. The winds howled at over 100 miles per hour during much of the storm and may possible gone as high as 120 miles per hour. There were no lights except the
lightening When daylight dawned the entire coastal areas east, south and west of the city was totally void of anything for six blocks inland from the Gulf. Damage was estimated at $17,058,275, there were approximately
3,600 buildings including the residences of 20,000 citizens was destroyed and anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 people killed.
Across the center of the island stood a line of broken and
badly damaged houses surrounded by piles of debris consisting of wood from broken up houses, wagons, boats and other objects plus the dead bodies of men, women, children, horses, cattls, sheep, dogs and the like.
Disposal of the Dead
On Sunday, the day after the Storm, four makeshift morgues were set up. Relatives could come by and identify the
remains of their loved ones. As more and more bodies were brought in, however, it became apparant very quickly that identification and burial of the dead was not going to be an option.
A major concern of
officials was the possibility of a major outbreak of disease due to the unsanitary conditions. Two city aldermen proposed Burial at sea. On Monday a barge was brought to the 12th Street Wharf. Firemen took the bodies to
the wharf on their wagons. Men were put to work at gun point loading the barge with the dead. The men working on the barge were given a shot of whiskey each time they made a trip down the barge. By Monday night 700
bodies had been loaded on the barge. A new crew was impressed to tow the barge out to sea. The bodies were weighted and consigned to the sea. The next morning scores of bodies were found on the beach. Some were
weighted, many were not. Burial at sea was then abandoned. It was difficult to tell if a body was being washed onshore from the storm or from the barge fiasco.
From Tuesday onward, the dead were disposed
of where they were found. Sometimes they were buried in shallow graves. More often they were cremated, burned in the debris where they were found. On October 29, almost two months after the storm, laborers located 10
more bodies. Other bodies were being found years later, some as skeletons uncovered in the sand.
Pyschology of the Survivors
Similar to the
September 11, 2001 Terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC people reacted to the aftermath of the Storm in many different ways and in many different stages. As
quickly as the action of the Storm passed many were helping the injured, helping to look for and free those who were buried under debris and trying to comfort friends and members of their family. Those who were
separated from their loved ones began searching. Those who were knowledgable of the death of their loved ones might surpress their feelings by acting as if nothing had happend, some would remain silent and
uncommunitive, some would walk or sit in a dazed, confused manner while others would act out in uncontrollable laughter, crying or other unnatural acts of behavior.
manifestation of survival is denial or guilt of the survivor as to why they survived while others died. Many would have nightmares or post tramatic stress disorders such as irritability, anger and anxiety.
One of the persisting tales told of the aftermath and devastation of the Storm is the story of what the residents of Galveston called the
Ghouls. Today we call them looters. These were the people who took advantage of what they saw unattached to a living person. They looted unoccupied homes and business, and things they saw laying in the open with no one
nearby to claim possession. Aside from taking what did not belong to them there were many rumors of people taking jewelry off he hands and ears or bodies. Since the remains of many of the dead were swollen from being
submerged in the water or from decomposition the fingers were swollen. It was reported some of these Ghouls would cut off the ears or fingers of people to get earrings and rings and other jewelry. There were reports of
ghouls who were caught with pockets full of fingers and ears with rings and earrings still attached.
One of the first warnings from City government officials to Ghouls and looters was "Do not do
it!". Anyone caught looting would be shot on sight. There are a number of reports in the newspapers and in survivor's experiences alluding to executions of Ghouls. Supposedly a large number of looters was picked up and
placed in a building on the first night after the Storm. Later that night they were supposed to have been executed en masse.
So far, my research has not turned up any names of
people being executed for looting or any official reports mentioning executions of looters. I have read the report of Adjutant General Scurry to the Governor. Scurry was the head of the State Militia that served in
Galveston. There is no mention in his report of any executions of citizens for looting.
I have also read the report of Lloyd D. Fayling who was appointed by Mayor Jones and the City Council to establish a
military force of soldiers and policemen whom he could induct into a temporary police unit. He had approximately three hundred men including sixty police officers under his command.His orders to his men was to shoot on
sight anyone looting the dead. His report , however, does not mention anyone being shot for looting. He surrendered his command to state athorities when General Scurry and his State Militia reached Galveston
four days after the Storm. If anyone was actually shot it would have occurred during this time frame.
City officials tried to quel the stories of Ghouls saying it just did not happen. I would
appreciate hearing from anyone who knows of any official police or other report with specifics explaining executions of looters. You can email me at
As Sunday morning dawned the storm had passed and the tide had receded back into the Gulf. The island
was alone and isolated. No one outside the island knew if anything or anyone had survived on the island. The survivors began doing what they had to do. They helped one another. As soon as possible city officials began
organizing they tried to find out the extent of the devastation and what should be needed where. The damage was much worse than anyone would have ever guessed.
One of the first things done was organzie
police patrols to protect property from looters, search for food and water, set up a morgue for the dead and take care of the injured. When the extent of damage was realized, officials tried to protect the city from
epidemic outbreaks. They ordered the bodies of the dead be transported to sea for burial and when that failed they ordered the bodies to be burned in funeral pyres or buried where they were found.
As soon as transportation was feasible, arrangements were made to get women and children off the island. Men were conscripted at gunpoint into working on work details cleaning up or disposing of the dead
or whatever was needed.
By September 13 General Thomas Scurry of the Texas Militia arrived in Galveston and placed the city under State martial law establishing a curfew and closing all saloons.
Only after a day or so of isolation help began arriving from Houston, New Orleans and the rest of the outside world. Clara Barton with representatives of the Red Cross were quick to arrive.
One of the major problems of the recovery was the torrid heat. 1900 brought the hottest September seen in Galveston in all its years of recording temperatures. The heat peaked
right after the storm and lingered into October breaking heat records that stand to this day. From September 10 through the 24th, the themometer never dipped below 78 degrees at night and rose to the low to mid 90's