The Galveston hurricane on Sept. 8, 1900, was the most devastating hurricane in American history. Between 8,000 and 12,000 people lost their lives, including residents of the St. Mary's Orphans Asylum. The Great Storm caused more than $20 million worth of damage in 1900 dollars, or $516 million in 2005 dollars.
The pre-hurricane population of Galveston totaled 38,000 people. More than 20 percent of the town's population lost their lives in the storm, and approximately 3,600 buildings were destroyed. It was the deadliest natural disaster in American history. The second-most deadly natural disaster, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, had less than half of the fatalities of the Galveston hurricane.
Many of the dead were unidentified. Isaac M. Cline, a Great Storm survivor and Weather Bureau employee, reported that hundreds of storm victims were cremated en masse to prevent them from decomposing in Galveston's ruins. Because of the mass cremations and unidentified bodies, an official list of storm victims was never compiled.
At St. Mary's Orphans Asylum, 10 nuns and 90 of their orphan charges died in the storm. The sisters and children gathered in the beachfront girls' dorm and sang the hymn "Queen of the Waves." The dorm was lifted off its foundation and swept into the water. Only three orphans survived. Worldwide chapters of the nuns' order memorialize St. Mary's Orphans Asylum by singing "Queen of the Waves" on the hurricane's anniversary each year.