130th Anniversary of Indianola hurricane

The city of Indianola (c. 1875) prior to hurricane destruction (Texas State Historical Society)
The city of Indianola (c. 1875) prior to hurricane destruction
(Texas State Historical Society)

On August 20, 1886, a major hurricane struck Indianola, Texas, wiping out the city and altering the economy and history of the state.

The storm was first detected 250 miles (400 km) east of Trinidad on the morning of Aug. 12th.  By evening it passed over Barbados as a tropical storm.  It moved steadily northwestward and hit the Dominican Republic as a hurricane on Aug. 15th.  It weakened as it passed over Haiti and then struck Cuba the next day.  It left 28 Cubans dead in its wake.  By the time it entered the Florida Straits it was back down to tropical storm strength.  Over the next two and a half days, it crossed the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  By the time it approached the Texas coast, its winds were up to 150 mph (240 km/hr).

The severe hurricane roared ashore over Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast.  The storm surge at Indianola was 15 feet (5 m) and inundated the entire town.  A fire was started by the collapse of a building and quickly spread by the wind.  After the storm passed only two buildings were left standing and 46 people had died.  The storm had taken out miles of railroad track, which hindered getting word out about the disaster and delayed relief efforts. Storm impacts were felt from the Corpus Christi to Houston, and inland the town of Victoria was nearly destroyed.

Indianola had been struggling to recover from a hurricane that had hit eleven years before and had claimed 400 lives.  Many residents were forced to move inland.  Just over a month later, another hurricane struck the area destroying what little was left.  All the remaining residents were then evacuated and the town was abandoned.  The rival city of Galveston, seventy miles to the north, took over as the main port and shipping point in northern Texas and became a boom town.  The remains of Indianola are now submerged under the encroaching Matagorda Bay.