Imagine if America's center of commerce, culture and finance wasn't New York City, but Newark, New Jersey. And that the reason for the switch was one swift kick in the crotch from the ocean. It's not that hard to do, once you take a look at Galveston, Texas.
By 1900, Galveston was a hugely important place. It was a major cotton market to the world, one of the South's busiest ports, a cultural hub and had the reputation as the Wall Street of the Southwest. Which is kind of ironic, if you know what's coming.
(It's a hurricane.)
On September 8, 1900, Galveston took the brunt of the nation's biggest disaster before or since -- the appropriately named Galveston Hurricane of 1900.
If you thought Katrina was bad, you were right, because Katrina was pretty bad. But no other North American event -- not 9/11, not the great San Francisco Earthquake -- did as much damage or killed as many people as this one hurricane. Which sucks extra hard, because 14 years before the storm hit, residents floated the idea of building a sea wall to protect themselves. The city's chief weatherman pooh-poohed the idea, promising, "It would be impossible for any cyclone to create a storm wave which could materially injure the city." Presumably because he had a heaping bowl of Hubris-O's the morning of that particular interview.
"Now with fortified Vitamin Hindsight!"
So why was this specific storm so devastating? For one thing, the hurricane itself was strong, a Category 4 storm at landfall, which meant winds were hitting 130 mph. For another, it brought with it a 15-foot storm surge that knocked buildings off their foundations, then dragged them across the island in a two-story-tall debris wall which leveled any other buildings left standing. It was like God was playing the game of "Why are you hitting yourself?" but instead of using our hands, he was using our own buildings. To understand fully, here's what the city looked like before the hurricane:
And here's what it looked like after:
Galveston was never Galveston again. The economic powerhouse that was Galveston simply shifted to Houston. Sure, they rebuilt admirably. But today, Houston is home to almost 2.1 million people. Galveston? About 57,000.
You can't say that the residents of the ancient Greek city of Helike couldn't have known shit was about to go down. For five days in 373 BC, they watched in bafflement as snakes and rats high-tailed out of Dodge in search of higher ground. And on the fifth day, there were reports of "immense columns of flame" in the sky. Those columns weren't just the classical era's version of U2 putting on a killer show, they were what we now call "earthquake lights," otherwise known as nature's death-shake alarm. By now, you've probably figured out an earthquake was coming. But you'd have to be the world's greatest precog to have predicted what happened next.
A Phil Collins show?
The city of Helike and all of its residents were first swallowed by the Earth, then covered by lagoon water, then, presumably because they had built their city on the ancient burial grounds of baby Olympian gods, double buried once more.
It all goes back to that process of liquefaction. Only in this case, the sand didn't form a watery river of death to the ocean, it just straight liquefied, dragging the entire city into a grave hole that was awkwardly just their size. So that sucked.
But the next part was worse. The collapse of the city was so powerful that it sent a wave across the sea, which ricocheted right back to them in the form of a tsunami. So, just so we're clear: The town was buried in the ground, and on top of the burial site a 32-foot-high wave came crashing down, eventually forming a lagoon that covered the city for good. And it was in that lagoon that ancient historians reported visiting and seeing Helike's ruins and generations of fishermen complained of getting their nets snagged on "Poseidon statues."
"This is nothing, I once caught an ancient God."
The only problem? There was no lagoon. At least not on the site it was supposed to be, and not in recent memory. It took a 12-year expedition to figure the mystery out. It turned out the lagoon that once covered the coffin of the city of Helike had been filled in by hundreds of years of river silt deposits, or the third burial of the gods' three-burial plan.
In other words, if you think Sodom and Gomorrah was the result of God's judgment, what the hell did these people do?
Probably nothing -- Greek gods were usually in it just for the shits and giggles.
If your interested in having your city destroyed by God, check out 20 Tacky Religious Products Guaranteed to Anger God. Or learn about some more X-rated scenes in the good book, in The 6 Raunchiest, Most Depraved Sex Acts (From the Bible).