My friend’s cat is huddled in his box and seems unhappy and wary as she unloads him from her car–piled high with possessions gathered in haste–fleeing the Texas gulf coast in anticipation of hurricane Harvey. Slowly gaining strength and speed, Harvey created preliminary recommendations and mandatory orders to evacuate coastal cities for places farther inland. I immediately think of the great storm that destroyed Galveston in 1900, and the great book by Eric Larson that popularized the story, Issac’s Storm.

A vision of Harvey today on the way to the Texas gulf coast

To those unaffected, evacuation may seem extreme, but even in these modern times mother nature is changeable. Often, storms make rapid changes that can not be predicted. Erik Larson was fascinated by hurricanes, but this story also had other factors that compelled him to tell it. At the time of the storm Galveston was of the most modern, promising, and wealthy cities in Texas. Issac Cline was a promising meteorologist appointed to Galveston as the head meteorologist. In his hubris, he grossly misjudged the dangerous geographical position that Galveston was in–ultimately leading to the loss of what is estimated to be 6,000 lives and the destruction of a great city–earning the storm the title of the most deadly hurricane in US history.

The drive to know the weather also came with the drive to control the weather. Around 1900, the idea that nature needed to be conquered and tamed was prevalent. Galveston in 1900 was a time of great hope, a thriving port city and the first city in Texas to have electric lights. This luxury, among many other modern conveniences made it poised to be one of the most sophisticated cities in Texas.  Home to well kept churches and beautiful architecture, the growing city was elegant and grand.

Galveston before the hurricane

The Tremont Hotel survived the storm

Many piers stretched out into cooler waters for recreation

Ursuline Academy, Galveston

 

If you haven’t already read it, the book is a great–if not heart wrenching–read, but just the pictures tell a compelling story in themselves.

 

In 2008 one of our projects endured hurricane Ike. The office is committed to sustainable building which means not only taking into account the location and the site, but the capacity to survive the elements–and in 2008 our coastal living house proved sustainable building practices by surviving the hurricane.

Costal living house after hurricane Ike in 2008

Rescue efforts after Ike

A house crumpled after Ike

Thankfully, my friends are safely evacuated albiet worried for their homes and towns. I wait and reflect in the quiet before the storm–thinking about the great historical losses hurricanes have brought–forever changing history in their wake. The question hovers as to what level of loss Harvey will bring. I feel small and helpless in the face of the forces of nature–the only thing to do is wait, hoping for the best and wishing everyone safety.

1900 Storm Memorial on the seawall, Galveston, TX photo by Beth Leaver