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Lessons Learned From America's Earliest Natural Disasters

A large part of the city of Galveston, Texas, is reduced to rubble after being hit by a surprise hurricane Sept. 8, 1900. More than 6,000 people were killed and 10,000 left homeless from the storm, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. (AP)
A large part of the city of Galveston, Texas, is reduced to rubble after being hit by a surprise hurricane Sept. 8, 1900. More than 6,000 people were killed and 10,000 left homeless from the storm, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. (AP)

The phrases “unprecedented” and “beyond anything experienced” have become commonplace since Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast. But natural disaster is not new in America.

From Philadelphia’s deadly yellow fever outbreak in 1793 to the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the country’s earliest disasters have taught valuable lessons for preventing loss of life in the modern era. Historians Ed Ayers ( @edward_l_ayers) and Joanne Freeman ( @jbf1755) speak with Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson about those tragic events and how federal and local governments adapted for the future.

Ayers and Freeman are co-hosts of the podcast  BackStory, which is produced at the  Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

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