Hurricane Camille made history 40 years ago
Forty years ago tomorrow, the most powerful storm ever to visit the U.S. mainland crashed ashore along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Nearly everything in Camille's path, along the coast from Biloxi west to the Alabama state line, was reduced to splinters. If the 190 mph winds (and higher gusts) didn't get it, the 22-foot storm surge probably did. It was the highest storm surge ever recorded in the U.S. Homes went under water 2 miles from the Gulf shore.
Barometric pressure at Camille's center dropped to 26.85 inches, the second-lowest ever measured in the U.S.
More than 200,000 people fled north. Another 44,000 entered shelters. That, plus the relatively low population and development in the region in 1969, prevented the death and destruction from becoming worse than it was. Even so, an estimated 255 people died, and 8,900 were injured. Property damage totaled $4.2 billion in 1969 dollars. Some 14,000 housing units were damaged, and 6,000 more were totally destroyed.
In hindsight, Hurricane Andrew (1992) caused more property damage, and Hurricane Katrina (2005) killed more people. But in its time, Camille was the biggest single destructive event in U.S. history.
And it didn't end after Camille went ashore in Mississippi. The weakening storm moved inland to Kentucky, then turned toward West Virginia and Virginia. Heavy rains and flash flooding caused more damage and deaths in West Virginia. Flash flooding killed 153 people in Virginia as the storm regained tropical storm strength and dropped 12 to 20 inches of rain there. Destruction and damage were widespread, and totalled more than $140 million in 1969 dollars.
The name Camille was permanently retired from the list of names available for Atlantic hurricanes.
Looking at the old newspaper clips from that week, it's interesting to note what else was going on at the time. The last few hundred thousand music lovers were preparing to leave the site of the Woodstock festival in upstate New York. Lunar astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were thinking about whether they would seek new space missions. (Collins was finished; Aldrin wasn't sure, but Armstrong said he was still available to fly.) There was fighting in Vietnam and the Middle East, and the world's longest-surviving heart transplant patient, Dr. Philip Blaiberg, 60, died in a South African hospital 594 days after receiving the world's third heart transplant.
(AP Wirephoto/Parnell McKay, civil defense director for Pass Christian, Miss., surveys the damaged town.)