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Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising, 1975 HCEL
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On September 8, 1900, a disaster struck Galveston which remains the deadliest in North American history. A hurricane struck Galveston Island, killing approximately 15% of the island’s population of 44,000 people and causing an estimated $30 million in damage. After the storm, the Galveston City Commission and County Commissioner’s Court appointed a three-member board of engineers to devise a plan of protection from future storms.  The board, comprising Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert, U.S. Army Retired; Alfred Noble; and Henry Clay Ripley, which represented  some of the finest engineers of the time, presented its formal report to the City in January of 1902.The report recommended construction of a curved-face concrete seawall which would run across the eastern edge of the city from Galveston’s south jetty down to the beach, as well as a fill behind the wall with a crest one foot higher than the wall and 2000 feet back from it.


The design called for driving piles 40 feet below sea level to secure the foundation with the outer wall curving inward to direct crashing waves back towards the sea. In preparation for future storms, Galveston was also faced with the task of raising the ground level of the island by up to 12 feet -  a feat which involved raising all of the buildings by hand-turned jack screws, and lifting utility systems such as water pipes, streetcar tracks, and telephone lines section by section.  Galveston has seen untold benefits from this endeavor; it is left with an aesthetically pleasing shoreline, with the seawall having become a major tourist attraction. Furthermore, the seawall and grade rising have prevented over $250 million in storm damages and have saved countless lives to date.

Photo: Michael N Fowler, FEMA

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