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Nuns remember sisters, orphans who died in hurricane

All the nuns and all but three of the orphans photographed here at St. Mary's perished in the storm  

GALVESTON (CNN) -- As they have for the last 100 years, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word gather on September 8 to sing a hymn in remembrance of the victims of the Galveston Hurricane.

"Wherever we are, in all of our houses, we sing 'Queen of the Waves' in honor of the children, the sisters and all of those who faced the great tragedy known as the 1900 storm," said Sister Pauline Troncale.

The ten sisters in her order who ran St. Mary's Orphanage back then and 90 of the children they cared for perished when a hurricane demolished the complex on the Gulf of Mexico.

The dormitories had sat on a piece of ground called Green's Bayou on the outskirts of the Texas island town of Galveston.


"Since the property was in between the gulf and the bayou, they thought it would be safe from the yellow fever epidemic," said Sister Pauline.

But as the 1900 hurricane approached, the waters of the gulf and the bayou swelled and came ashore to surround the orphanage. The sister moved all the children to the newer girl's dormitory.

"As they looked out, they saw the boys building disintegrate in the storm," said the sister.

To ease the fears of the children, the nuns led them in prayers and hymns.

"One in particular was called 'Queen of the Waves' and this was a hymn traditionally sung by French fishermen during storms," Sister Pauline said.

By nightfall, 150 mile an hour winds howled and the sisters took desperate measures.

"They had cut the clothesline down and each sister had about six or eight children tied to her side like mountain climbers. In this way, they had hoped to hold on to the children and lead them to safety," she said.

Their efforts were to no avail. Eventually, the girls dormitory collapsed, dumping 93 children and 10 sisters into the raging waters. Only three boys, who clung to a tree, survived. When the bodies of the others were discovered, many were still tied together.

CNN Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella contributed to this report.

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The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word
Catholic Encyclopedia: Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word
The 1900 Storm from the Galveston County Daily News
Tales of the storm from the National Weather Service
Galveston Historical Foundation
Rosenberg Library: Galveston & Texas History Center
Random House books: Isaac's Storm
Weatherwise Magazine: The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900
KHOU-TV: Voices from the Storm, the 1900 Galveston Hurricane

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