Can The Devil Raise The Wind? A Hundred Years Ago, It Seemed Like It in Galveston
[adapted from uncut draft of Sent To Earth, by Michael H. Brown]:
As we pray and wait the approach of yet another huge storm, it is time to reflect, and to pray all the harder that history will not repeat itself. It is also a time to wonder about spiritual aspects. Could the devil raise the wind?
"The answer," noted one draft of Sent To Earth, "was in the simple description of him as 'prince of the power of the air' (Ephesians 2:2).
"Many were the storms that seemed to have a sinister motif, a sense of true ill-boding, and as we know Christ had seen Satan 'fall from the sky like lightning' (Luke 10:18). An evil feeling was common to storms. Often it was often like they were a manifestation of war. Spiritual conflict. That was what Christ said earth was -- a battlefield -- and if thunder was the volley of cannons then lightning was the spear thrown. At any given moment there were 1,800 thunderstorms occurring on earth. That came to 16 million a year.
"It took warm humid air, and the effects could be eerie. There were blue squid-like formations of energy called 'sprites' that shot from the tops of thunderheads, there was lightning that could come from a clear blue sky (known as 'blue giants,' which could strike twenty miles from a cloud), and there was chain-lightning, which crawled across whole regions. There were cases of people who had been struck by lightning two or even three times.
"Nature was an enigma and it was riled at the onset of the twentieth century, at the very time that temperatures were heading up and men were once more straying from God. In August of 1900 a heat wave was setting records from the upper Mississippi Valley over the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, and Mid-Atlantic states, and in Texas -- in Galveston -- the humidity was close to a hundred percent.
"The pump was primed for a disaster, and halfway between Cape Verde and the Antilles a hurricane brewed. It was spotted on August 27 moving at 15 miles an hour and picked up force as it crossed the Atlantic, made way into the Caribbean, and then found its way into the Gulf of Mexico, where eddies known as warm core rings fed the system up like fuel injectors. There was what meteorologists call 'violent deepening' -- a drastic drop in pressure, which means a low-pressure system is intensifying -- and suddenly it was en route to Texas and specifically the funky environs of Galveston, where the costume theme of a recent Mardi Gras had been 'Beelzebub and the Devils.'
"This spelled trouble; the highest point on Galveston was less than nine feet above sea level and the storm, sucking in wind, blowing it out, was pushing water like a plow. Hurricanes of category three level or above could cause storm surges -- tidal waves -- that overtopped the island.
"By midnight on September 8 it began to rain in Galveston, and by nine the next morning water on streets near its popular beach was running calf-deep. Residents watched the surf attacking a streetcar trestle near the water, more in amusement than with a sense of alarm. Kids floated on makeshift rafts and splashed with dogs as water flowed like a stream over more streets.
"The frolicking was not for long. Throughout morning the water rose and so did the wind, until it was plucking off pieces of roof and sending the curiosity-seekers dashing for cover. Experts believe it was a category four, with winds between 131 and 155 miles an hour, but we'll never be sure. The anemometer -- the cupped device used to measure the speed of wind -- registered 102 miles an hour at five p.m. but then blew off as the storm built.
"This was a strong category-four and as it arrived it did so with the paradoxical beauty of majestic clouds and a sky that seemed like it was made of mother of pearls. Like many things that were glamorous on the surface, however, there was a dark underside: pitch clouds that scutted with malevolence. Soon land near the resort's famous beach was under water but it was in the days before satellite and no one knew what was coming; dogs splashed; children frolicked. The high pounding surf was only a curiosity. But by evening there was no more amusement. Water had filled up the town like a bathtub and waves were crashing against second-story windows. In the words of one woman the wind -- gusting to 180 miles an hour -- 'sounded as if the rooms were filled with a thousand little devils, shrieking and whistling.'
"Sudden rises in water -- several feet in a matter of moments -- shocked townsfolk as what had started as a novelty was now a monstrous surge reaching up porches and washing up whirlpools of rubble. Soon it was armpit deep and residents fought for their lives as water overwashed the island. Waves and debris bulldozed house after house while families huddled on top floors watching in terror as walls and roofs collapsed and washed into the dark. Some managed to float on doors or other flotsam but most were lost. By morning Galveston was what National Geographic called "a scene of suffering and devastation hardly paralleled in the history of the world," with between 6,000 and 8,000 dead, so grisly that laborers had to be forced at gunpoint to dispose the dead, loading them on barges and dumping them at sea or burning the bodies on large pyres that lit the night. The island was coated with a sickening black slime.
"That alone would have been enough to single out the first part of the twentieth century as a time of great storms, but as it happens Galveston was one of many. Less than twenty years later a hurricane of similar force hit the southern part of Texas, while Florida became the target of storms so severe that they challenged the viability of cities like Miami, which encountered its big one in 1926.
"Furniture had clunked against the ceilings; terrified parents clutched their children in attics; but by the next morning there was nothing left. A surge of 15 feet had washed across the entire island, leaving a thick coat of black slime."
That was the tragic side. Does it have to repeat?
Not if we pray. In the Divine Mercy revelations, Jesus told St. Faustina Kowalska that a copy of His image in every home would protect it. We also note many prayers against storms [click here]. And Our Lady of Prompt Succor. See also the Pieta prayer book! Say a Rosary for those in the path.
Remember, with Katrina an unexpected and mysterious puff of dry air from the Midwest just before landfall weakened that still-awesome storm considerably.
With prayer, the proper level of faith, and Christ, the "prince of the power of the air" becomes hot air and nothing more.
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