Sunday, June 3, 2007

Galveston on stilts

Pruned: In her amazing book Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches, Cornelia Dean tells us about what Galvestonians did to their city after a hurricane plowed through town in 1900, devastating “the center of commerce for the entire Southwest” and killing nearly 6,000 people.

Rather than retreating to points higher, say, the mainland, and off of the shifting sand, they walled off the entire city and raised everything in it by as much as 17 feet, a “plan that even in an era of engineering daring stood out for its size, cost, and audacity.”

Quoting pages 6 and 8: “The lifting operation was one of sheer brawn. Laborers ran beams under the buildings and mounted them on screwjacks that burly men turned by hand. In this way, 2,156 buildings were laboriously hoisted, a quarter of an inch at a turn, until they reached the requisite height and new foundations could be built beneath them. Meanwhile, children climbed rickety catwalks to reach their schools; housewives hung their laundry from lines strung fifteen feet above the ground.

“Even substantial structures took to the air. At St. Patrick's Church, a three-hundred ton brick structure, services continued as it rose to the grunts of laborers manning two hundred screwjacks beneath it.”

So who wants to take a bet on when Galveston will get jacked up again? Or for that matter, when will it be done to New Orleans, Dakha, Venice, New York, and every other major cities in the world threatened by sea-level rise.

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