News & Politics

Another 'Mighty Day': Irma to Hit Florida 117 Years After Galveston Storm Killed 12,000

A large part of the city of Galveston, Texas was reduced to rubble, as shown in this September 1900 photo, after being hit by a surprise hurricane Sept. 8, 1900. (AP Photo)

As Irma bears down on Florida, likely to wreak wholesale destruction on the state, the thoughts and prayers of millions are being offered up for the safety of our citizens.

Florida residents have had plenty of warning to get out of the way of the storm. But this wasn’t the case 117 years ago yesterday when a category 4 hurricane slammed into Galveston Island on September 8, 1900.

“The Great Storm” as it is known (we hadn’t gotten around to naming hurricanes back then) is the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. No one knows the true death toll. Estimates range from a low of 6,000 to a high of 12,000.

What is known is that the storm made landfall packing winds of 140 miles an hour and let loose a storm surge of 15 feet. Since the island is only 9 feet above sea level, several feet of water inundated Galveston, destroying 3500 buildings.

Fox News took a look back at the Galveston hurricane. The devastation was incredible.

Obviously, there was no mass media at the time. But there is an American tradition of documenting tragedies like the Galveston hurricane by putting words to music to tell the story of the victims and survivors.

There have been songs about mining disasters, floods, landslides, and earthquakes — just about any large-scale loss of life. The American songbook is full of music telling contemporaries the details of what they read in the newspapers. Those songs come down to us, relaying with raw emotion the helplessness, the panic, and yes, the courage of those who lived to tell the tale.

“Mighty Day,” telling the story of the Galveston hurricane, is one such song. No one knows who wrote it. It’s loosely based on the old black spiritual “What a Mighty Day” referencing when Jesus was born. There have been dozens of versions, including one by James Taylor, by the folk group, The Highwaymen, and this dramatic, moving version that was recorded live by the Chad Mitchell Trio.

See if you can’t imagine what getting caught in this storm was like.

Today, we know enough about the destructive power of hurricanes to simply get out of Irma’s way. The vast array of early warning satellites and expertise of hurricane meteorologists allow us the veritable luxury of several days to prepare. The government has amassed an army of bureaucrats to rush food, medicine, and other vital supplies to residents. The Red Cross has mobilized to give what comfort they can to the survivors.

None of this was available to the residents of Galveston 117 years ago, which makes their story of survival and recovery even more remarkable. But given the unthinkable loss of life and property, most of us would probably prefer the advantages we enjoy today.