Nothing illustrates Americans’ nature better than how they response to disaster. It was proved again during the devastation in Houston wrought by Hurricane Harvey. Americans once again showed their compassion and generosity as relief aid and workers have poured in from across our national community.
It was alive back in 1900, when a Gulf hurricane ravaged the Texas coast and created the worst natural disaster in American history. On September 8, Galveston was hit by 145 mph winds and a 15-foot wave that swept over a town just eight feet above sea level. The storm left at least 8,000 dead and 3,600 homes destroyed.
Within days, help was on its way to Galveston from every state in the union. State and federal officials worked together to restore order to the city. The railway companies offered free transportation to any Galveston resident wanting to escape the city. Officials enforced price controls to make sure merchants didn’t raise prices to profit from the disaster. Volunteers worked for days tending the injured and unearthing the dead.
National unity was not particularly high in 1900. A presidential election pitting Republican incumbent William McKinley against Democrat William Jennings Bryan had raised partisan division between southern Democrats and the Republican voters in the north. But the country came together in one of the first national responses to tragedy.
In a Post editorial shortly after the hurricane, Lynn Roby Meekins observed that the one benefit of great tragedies is that they enabled the most humane and generous sides of people to emerge: “The bright lights of our national disasters are so strong that the shadows hardly show.”