Texas disasters are old news, but history offers lessons to those
who take time to seek them.
A look at the most dire disasters
in the state’s history – a list that contains one disaster that happened
long before Texas was settled – shows
that the worst disasters are the ones that come without warning.
Today, of course, we know of a hurricane’s approach for days in advance.
Tornados form faster, but even with those types of storms, weather
forecasters and law enforcement usually are able to warn citizens
to take shelter. Consequently, the number of weather-related fatalities
has declined over the years. But early-day Texans were not as fortunate.
With the catastrophic Haitian earthquake very much in the news, it
seems like a good time to list Texas’
most devastating events, from storms
to epidemics to plane crashes. Here, in order of severity in terms
of loss of life, are the 10 worst disasters in Texas history:
1. September 8, 1900
An unnamed hurricane sweeps across
Fatality estimates range from 8,000 to 12,000. This still stands as
the worst disaster in U.S. history in terms of lives lost.
Yellow fever outbreak kills thousands in Texas.
No definite list of casualties has ever been compiled, but the epidemic
ranks second only to the 1900 Galveston
hurricane in number of deaths.
3. October-November 1918
“Spanish flu” pandemic kills an estimated 20 million world-wide, a
half-million in the United States and several thousand in Texas. El
Paso, where the disease broke out first among soldiers at Fort
Bliss, had 600 deaths.
4. April 16, 1947
Explosion of SS Grandcamp at the dock in Texas
City, followed the next day by the explosion of the SS High Flyer,
kill at least 576 persons. Thousands are injured in Texas’
second-worst non-disease disaster.
Leaking natural gas explodes in basement of New
London School in Rusk
County. Of 600-plus students and teachers in the school that
day, 319 died in the explosion
and resulting building collapse. Incident still stands as the nation’s
worst school disaster.
6. September 14, 1919
A hurricane strikes south of Corpus
Christi with 110 mph winds pushing a storm surge of 16 feet.
The unnamed storm takes 284 lives.
7. August 16-19, 1915
is again hit by a powerful hurricane. Storm kills 275 and results
in more than $56 million in property damage. Devastation would have
been even worse but for the seawall built to safeguard the city
following the 1900 hurricane.
8. September 8-10, 1921
Triggered by a hurricane that came ashore in Mexico, worst
rainstorm in Texas history results in the drowning of at least
215 people in Central Texas.
9. April 29, 1554
In Texas’ first historical disaster, three Spanish ships laden with
silver, gold and trade goods – the San Esteban, the Espiritu Santo
and the Santa Maria de Yciar – are washed ashore on South
Padre Island by a spring storm in the Gulf of Mexico. As many
as 200 passengers and crew members drown.
10. August 2, 1985
Delta Airlines Flight 191 crashes on approach at Dallas-Fort Worth
International Airport, killing 135 passengers and crew and the driver
of a car on State Highway 114. The crash ranks thirteenth among
the nation’s worst aviation disasters.