‘The Storm of the Cen­tury’ dives into 1900 storm

The China Post - - ARTS - BY LUQ­MAN ADENIYI

Al Roker’s new book, “The Storm of the Cen­tury,” reads like a block­buster movie script, but the “To­day” show weath­er­man said the drama, heartache and strife of the Great Hur­ri­cane of 1900 that hit Galveston, Texas, is all too real.

“This is still the great­est nat­u­ral dis­as­ter to hit the United States, even af­ter all this time,” Roker told The As­so­ci­ated Press in a re­cent in­ter­view.

Out Tues­day, the book comes a few weeks be­fore the 10th an­niver­sary of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina on Aug. 25. Roker said nat­u­ral dis­as­ters have be­come stronger and stronger and the book is a re­minder of the dam­age that can come.

“I think hu­man na­ture is that we can han­dle what­ever comes our way,” Roker said. “But I think, as our en­vi­ron­ment is chang­ing, I think we have to re­think that, and that cer­tain ways of life and cer­tain places we live may not be fea­si­bly hab­it­able for much longer and hard choices are go­ing to have to be made.”

To cre­ate the nar­ra­tive, Roker uses news­pa­per clip­pings, oral his­to­ries and archival records to piece to­gether the dev­as­ta­tion of the is­land city once called the “Paris of the Gulf Coast.”

The book de­scribes the seaport as a town lead­ing the U.S. into the 20th cen­tury. Its pop­u­la­tion was di­verse and pro­gres­sive, streets were lined with new elec­tric lamps and busi­ness was boom­ing from a ship­ping trade that passed through the pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion.

“In 1900, Galveston had more mil­lion­aires per capita than any other city in Amer­ica. ... It had so much go­ing for it,” Roker said. “It also had a lot of hubris and a lot of pride to its own detri­ment.”

Roker eases read­ers into the Sept. 8 evening of doom by weav­ing in the story of Galveston’s de­vel­op­ment and de­scrip­tions of the U.S. media and po­lit­i­cal land­scape. He also cre­atively loops in the back­sto­ries of sev­eral towns­peo­ple, in­clud­ing a weath­er­man, young school­teacher and a sin­gle mother — all of whom be­lieved a storm like this could never hap­pen.

“These des­per­ate char­ac­ters (are) all kind of be­ing united by this one nat­u­ral dis­as­ter that will change their lives for­ever. Some of them sur­vive and some of them don’t,” Roker said.

It took just a few hours for the storm, which would be con­sid­ered a Cat­e­gory 4 to­day, to con­sume Galveston with its 200 mph winds and 15-foot waves, Roker writes. He es­ti­mates 10,000 peo­ple were killed and more than US$700 mil­lion in dam­age was done in to­day’s dol­lars.

Among the hu­man faces Roker puts on the dis­as­ter is a young lawyer, Clarence Howth, who was trapped un­der his house by the storm af­ter watch­ing his wife, Marie, new­born baby and other rel­a­tives swept away. Howth tried to take his own life by gulp­ing the rag­ing wa­ter but ul­ti­mately couldn’t bring him­self to do it. He man­aged to free him­self and sur­face, but was swept away by cur­rents and spent 10 hours cling­ing to a bro­ken win­dow frame un­til the wa­ters re­ceded and he found him­self back in town, where it all be­gan, Roker writes.

This is the first time Roker dives into a weather event for a book. The New York Times best-selling au­thor came across the Great Hur­ri­cane of 1900 while do­ing other re­search. He said he teamed up with re­searcher Bill Ho­ge­land to pro­duce the work and was inspired by other books, in­clud­ing Erik Lar­son’s “Isaac’s Storm.”

Roker, who also hosts the Weather Chan­nel’s “Wake Up With Al,” said he is work­ing on another book about the John­stown Flood that dev­as­tated the Penn­syl­va­nian town in 1889, and he may even reach fur­ther back in time for his next weather event.

“I haven’t even re­searched it and who knows if it’s true but the ul­ti­mate dis­as­ter story is Noah’s Ark,” Roker said.

AP

This book cover im­age re­leased by Wil­liam Mor­row shows “The Storm of the Cen­tury: Tragedy, Hero­ism, Sur­vival, and the Epic True Story of Amer­ica’s Dead­li­est Nat­u­ral Dis­as­ter: The Great Gulf Hur­ri­cane of 1900,” by Al Roker.

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