As the residents return to Hurricane Ike-battered Galveston, Texas, my thoughts turn to a time there in 2005. It was an early December day we would have welcomed here: sunny, with an energetic breeze stirring the 65-degree air.
Standing in the doorway of one of the many, nondescript tourist-hotels that line Seawall Boulevard on the opposite side of the expansive street from the muddy Gulf of Mexico, I was talking with a Galveston newspaper reporter.
When he asked where I was from, I responded, ''The Pittsburgh area;'' my standard answer during my time in Texas.
''Anywhere near Johns-town?'' he asked. Surprised, I replied that I live in Johns-town and asked him if he knew someone there.
''No,'' he replied in a soft Texan-drawl, ''We all know about Johnstown here.''
Galveston and Johnstown are charter members of a mournful fraternity: communities that have known the worst natural disasters in our nation's history. Even in this post-Katrina period, more than 100 years later, Galveston and Johnstown still occupy top positions on that list.
In 1900, a hurricane known only as "The Great Storm of 1900" brought 135 mph winds and a 16-foot storm surge to southeast Texas, scouring 30 miles of shoreline and killing at least 6,000 people - one-sixth of Galveston's population.
Eleven years earlier, an Allegheny Mountain dam, failing during a massive rainstorm, released a volume of water equivalent to 36 minutes of Niagara Falls. After gathering debris as it coursed down the narrow Little Conemaugh River valley, a 40-foot wall of water and matter slammed through Johnstown, killing more than 2,200 people.
The Great Storm of 1900 and the Johnstown Flood (also referred to as ''Great'' in many accounts) captured unprecedented media coverage and attention worldwide - not only because of the scale of each disaster, but be-cause each story was replete with gripping drama, heroic characters and villains.
Readers devoured ac-counts of rich industrialists cavalierly relaxing at a mountain resort made possible by an inadequate dam. Public belief that the disaster was as much manmade as it was natural etched the Johnstown Flood into the popular culture of the late-19th century.
Galveston's disaster had its villains, too. Washington bureaucrats of the U.S. Weather Bureau prevented Isaac Cline, a weather forecaster on duty in Galveston at the time, from issuing a hurricane warning.
Johnstown and Galveston also share the dubious distinction of having had to endure repeated natural disasters. Johnstown suffered from other killer floods in 1936 and 1977. Galveston has felt other hurricanes' impact in 1915, 1983 and 2005.
Now, Galveston's seawall, installed after The Great Storm of 1900, has been chewed up by the storm surge associated with Ike. At least eight people died on the island. And residents are returning under a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew to pick up the pieces of their homes, businesses and lives.
Many, here, know their pain - and their challenge. Let's lift up our prayers of support and, perhaps, consider ways that we could reach out to the residents of Galveston with assistance.
And let's hope that these two communities will cease to be sisters in disaster.
Write to Dave Hurst through www.hurstmediaworks.com.