Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Grover Cleveland's Hurricane

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Grover Cleveland's Hurricane

Article excerpt

Cleveland, a Democrat and former governor of New York, opposed government intervention in natural disasters.

A devastating storm slams into New York City; within days, another hits the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. The president refuses to allow the federal government to coordinate relief efforts. No, it's not a glimpse into a future without the Federal Emergency Management Agency under a Romney administration. It's what happened in August 1893, and the consequences of the government's inaction offer valuable lessons today.

On Tuesday, Aug. 22, in the Atlantic Ocean, four hurricanes were swirling simultaneously, an event never before recorded, and one that would not happen again until 1998. Two would peter out, but over Wednesday night, one of the hurricanes slammed into New York City. At least 30 people were killed. A storm surge swept across southern Brooklyn and Queens, destroying virtually everything in its path. Railroad tracks near Brighton Beach were washed away, along with bath houses and sections of boardwalk.

Four days later, on Aug. 27, the last, even more powerful hurricane made landfall near Savannah, Georgia, devastating coastal island communities. As many as 2,000 people were killed, many swept out to sea, never to be seen again. Corn and cotton crops were ruined, and wells were contaminated with seawater.

In the wake of these twin tragedies, however, President Grover Cleveland did nothing.

Cleveland, a Democrat and former governor of New York, opposed government intervention in natural disasters. In his first term he had vetoed a bill that would have given drought-stricken Texas farmers $10,000 for seeds. "Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character," Cleveland wrote in his veto message. …

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