Three states hammered by hurricane in Gulf (9-23-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 23, 1941)

Hurricane flags fly –

Outer fringe of blow hits Freeport; high tide flood cities


Houston, Tex., Sept. 23 (UP) –
A hurricane roared northwestward through the Gulf of Mexico today and the gales and great tides that preceded it gave towns along the central Texas coast warning of the dangers it held for them. Effects of the storm were already felt along the Louisiana coast and as far east as Biloxi, Miss.

Thousands of persons had locked their homes and fled inland.

The outer fringes of the violent Gulf twister had already reached Freeport this afternoon. There it was tearing up trees and had sunk two fishing boats in the harbor. Mayor William Allan reported that this was the only damage so far. He was one of the few men remaining in town. Most of the 6,000 residents had fled Freeport earlier after the government warned that the storm center would strike close to the community.

River backed up

The focal point of the storm appeared to be between Freeport and Port O’Connor, 75 miles southwest on Matagorda Bay.

Freeport is protected by levees, but high tides had backed sea water into the Brazos River and forced it out of its banks. The barometer was falling rapidly.

At Galveston, the wind was decreasing and the tide was falling, an indication that the center of the storm, still 100 miles at sea, had passed westward, and this was borne out by the higher tides and the blustery weather that swept into Port O’Connor.

The Weather Bureau said the hurricane was moving forward about six miles an hour with winds of full hurricane force near the center.

If the storm continues at its present movement, the advisory added, it will reach the coastline near Port O’Connor tonight, attended by winds up to 90 miles an hour. Dangerous gales northeast to Port Arthur, Tex., and southwest to Corpus Christi will result.

Thousands flee

Galveston felt the storm last night and thousands of its 60,000 residents and hundreds of tourists, mindful of the storm in 1900 that took 6,000 lives, fled over the causeway and north to Houston.

Port Arthur, protected by a 10-foot levee, reported winds of 50 miles an hour, a tide 5.5 feet above normal and floodwaters in lower sections of the city. Coastal highways outside town were blocked by tidewaters.

Highways were also inundated between New Orleans and Biloxi.

Corpus Christi, the site of the Navy’s new Annapolis of the air, also reported high winds and heavy tides sweeping the lowlands.

At Freeport, the Dow Chemical Company’s new $25-million plant to produce magnesium, a vital defense element, was left to the hurricane’s mercy.

Among the thousands of lowland residents who poured into this and other inland cities offering haven were 5,000 Army Air Forces soldiers from Ellington Field 18 miles south of here. They were bivouacked at the Municipal Coliseum.

The only other large encampment in the threatened area is Camp Hulen at Palacios, behind Matagorda Bay, near Port O’Connor. Officers would not say how many soldiers remained there. It was built to accommodate 12,500 trainees but most of its personnel is in Louisiana for the war games.

The Pittsburgh Press (September 24, 1941)

110-mile-an-hour wind –

Five dead, losses run into millions; troops in storm’s path

Houston, Tex., Sept. 24 (UP) –
A tropical hurricane which in places reached a 110-mile-an-hour velocity roared inland toward Louisiana today after smashing through Houston and the Gulf Coast.

The Weather Bureau said the gale, though somewhat spent, would probably pass between Shreveport and Natchitoches, La., today, the area where half a million troops are participating in Army maneuvers. However, the storm’s force was diminished so that it was no longer a hazard to life and property.

At least four were dead, 13 were injured, and more than 50 towns were damaged. Losses ran into millions of dollars. In Houston, Mayor Neal Pickett made a tentative estimate of $400,000 to $500,000 in damages.

Houston hard hit

The hurricane moved to Houston from Palacios and Freeport and centered between Houston and Ellington Field, 17 miles to the south. The maximum wind reported officially in Houston was 65 miles an hour, but Ellington Field reported 73. Estimated and official velocities were reported elsewhere from 90 to 110 miles an hour.

Much of Houston, the largest city in Texas, was darkened and powerless.

Uprooted trees littered streets, and plate glass was smashed in scores of downtown display windows. Hundreds of Texas defense guardsmen, some carrying rifles, were on duty to protect pedestrians and to prevent looting.

Hospitals darkened

Hospitals were darkened and without power. Plants and factories closed.

Schools and public buildings housed thousands of refugees who came to Houston from coastal towns.

Freeport was without drinking water, and a supply was started from Houston at daybreak.

The rice crop around Alvin suffered an estimated $1 million in damages, and in Matagorda County, three-fourths of the $1.5-million rice crop – the richest in years – was destroyed.

In Galveston, virtually destroyed by a hurricane in 1900, the seawall successfully withstood massive groundswells and the roughest Gulf waters in years.

Warnings save lives

The federal hurricane warning service was given credit for the apparent low loss of life. Accurate predictions of the hurricane’s course enabled evacuation of endangered residents from the sparsely settled coastal regions which bore the brunt of the wind.

The known dead were Dean E. Saxby of Alvin, Tex., and Fred T. Hall of Houston, both electrocuted by fallen wires, a woman identified as Bessie Jackson, Negro, who drowned in a rain-filled Houston street, and an unidentified seaman swept overboard from the tanker Myriam in the Gulf off Houston.

Word was received from Washington that the WPA had made a special $20,000 authorization for the storm area and the WPA said more money would be provided if necessary.

The hurricane struck hard at Matagorda Bay and swept over the town of Matagorda. Most of the town’s 1,000 residents fled but the few who remained reported by shortwave radio that the wind reached 110 miles an hour, that cottages had been smashed and fishing boats capsized and the town was underwater.

The levee at Freeport, vital defense community midway between Galveston and Matagorda, held back high tides whipped by a 95-mile-an-hour wind.

Defense plant escapes

The Dow Chemical Co.'s $25-million magnesium plant and the sulfur mines at Freeport were not believed to be damaged severely. Heavy structures throughout the storm area were believed to have survived without crippling damages.

Throughout the hundreds of square miles of affected coastal region, however, trees were uprooted, houses were unroofed, power and communication services were disrupted, and, in many cases, roads were flooded with the torrential rains and gulf backwaters.

Bay City, 20 miles from the Gulf on the Colorado River, was swept by 85-mile-an-hour winds and the river flooded much of the town.


Houston, Tex., Sept. 24 (UP) –
The Texas hurricane caused slight damage to a building, but caused no injury to any soldiers at Ellington Field, near here, Col. Walter H. Reid, in command at the Air Force advanced flying field, announced today.

Col. Reid said he had been swamped with inquiries from worried parents of soldiers, many of whom are from Western Pennsylvania.