A century after Rita's ancestor killed 8,000, Galveston fears another visit

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This time around, the city is taking no chances with the prospect of 20ft waves surging over the Texas coastline. The mayor, Lyda Ann Thomas, has already ordered an evacuation. "The real lesson I think the citizens learnt is that the people in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi did not leave in time. There was great loss of life and property and misery," she said.

"We just don't want that to happen here. We've always asked people to leave earlier but because of Katrina they are now listening to us and they're leaving as we say.'' Reports said that school buses began leaving Galveston County, which has about 267,000 residents, yesterday morning. By daybreak dozens of people had lined up, carrying pillows, bags and coolers to board the yellow buses.

"These storms are horrible. They are treacherous," Ldyyan Jean Jocque, 59, told the Houston Chronicle, as she waited for a bus outside the Galveston community centre before sunrise. "After this killer in New Orleans, Katrina, I just cannot fathom staying."

In 1900, there was no such evacuation. There was confusion within the US Weather Bureau's Washington headquarters as to the likely course of the storm and reports from its staff in Cuba claimed there was nothing to worry about. Just days before the storm struck Galveston, the bureau's senior official, Willis Moore, sent a telegram to Texas reminding his staff that only headquarters could issue a storm warning.

As Erik Larson's 1999 book Isaac's Storm notes, after the hurricane struck - there were no names for the individual storms back then - Mr Moore believed the Galveston hurricane had been a freak of nature. "Galveston should take heart as the chances are not once in a thousand years would she be so terribly stricken," he wrote. In fact, Galveston was hit by another huge hurricane in 1915 when a schooner and its crew were flung over the top of the newly built sea-wall. Other hurricanes hit, or else narrowly missed, in 1919, 1932, 1941, 1943, 1949, 1957, 1961 and 1983. And now another storm is coming.