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Hurricane Camille

Hurricane Camille: Monster Storm of the Gulf Coast

Philip D. Hearn
Copyright Date: 2004
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    Hurricane Camille
    Book Description:

    On August 17, 1969, Hurricane Camille roared out of the Gulf of Mexico and smashed into Mississippi's twenty-six miles of coastline. Winds were clocked at more than 200 miles per hour, tidal waves surged to nearly 35 feet, and the barometric pressure of 26.85 inches neared an all-time low. Survivors of the killer storm date events as BC and AC--Before Camille and After Camille.

    The history of Hurricane Camille is told here through the eyes and the memories of those who survived the traumatic winds and tides. Their firsthand accounts, compiled a decade after the storm and archived at the University of Southern Mississippi, form the core of this book.

    Property damage exceeded $1.5 billion, $48.6 billion in today's dollars. Fashionable beachfront homes, holiday hotels, marinas, night clubs, and souvenir shops were devastated. The death toll in the state's three coastal counties--Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson--reached 131, with another 41 persons never found. The rampaging storm then moved north through Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia and sparked flash floods that killed more than 100 in Virginia before moving into the Atlantic. Camille is one of only three Category 5 hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. mainland.

    Along the Coast today, vacant lots, slabs of concrete, and mysterious staircases and driveways leading to nowhere are Camille's eerie reminders. The ruins that remain, however, are overshadowed by the dazzle and fun at the dozen casinos and high-rise hotels that dominate the modern beachfront. Once more the seashore is thriving. Rambling homes, the neon lights of motels and family restaurants, and the nets and masts of shrimp boats mark the skyline. For the Mississippi Coast, a historic retreat between New Orleans on the west and Mobile on the east--these are the best of times.

    This gripping story of the Coast's most devastating storm recounts what happened on a terrifying night more than three decades ago. It reminds, too, what can happen again.

    Philip D. Hearn, a longtime Mississippi news reporter and editor, is a research writer for the university relations office of Mississippi State University. His work has been published inArmy Reservemagazine,Vietnam Magazine, and many newspapers.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-423-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-2)
    (pp. 3-28)

    Wade Guice decided it was time to activate the Emergency Operations Center at Gulfport, Mississippi. The veteran Harrison County civil defense director issued orders for an increased state of readiness—routine procedure when a storm enters the Gulf of Mexico. That triggered a series of preparatory actions that included manning the Emergency Operations Center on a limited basis, touching base with support agencies such as the Red Cross, checking food and water sources, and preparing a list of storm shelters for publication in the local newspaper. According to Guice, “It was time to top off all the fuel tanks and...

    (pp. 29-57)

    Humans have inhabited or traversed what is now the Mississippi Gulf Coast for thousands of years. Archaeologists confirm that wandering bands of Native American hunters pursued animals for food in the Biloxi area and on nearby Deer Island as far back as the Paleo-Indian stage, circa 14,000–12,000 b.c.e. Hurricanes may have discouraged the formation of large and permanent villages in the area, but there is ample evidence that archaic people organized into small nomadic groups. The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto came into contact with survivors of the disappearing Mississippian culture in the early sixteenth century. The ancient Indian...

    (pp. 58-86)

    The Mayan storm god, Hunraken, haunted the Caribbean coasts of tropical Mexico many centuries ago, indiscriminately meting out death and destruction to the helpless Indians who had the misfortune to cross his path and instilling fear and apprehension in the hearts and minds of those who survived his terrifying grasp. The evil spirit, or mythological personification of the “big wind” depicted in Mayan hieroglyphics, may be the “first human record of Atlantic tropical cyclones,” according to Edward Rappaport and Jose Fernandez in their article “The Deadliest Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, 1492–Present.” Other ancient Indian civilizations knew him by similar names—...

    (pp. 87-122)

    “Get out! Get out!” a voice blared over the loudspeaker of a passing National Guard vehicle. “This is a very dangerous area.” The warning echoed through otherwise silent streets as guardsmen combed the beachfront neighborhood around Robert Taylor’s Gulfport home. It was just before sundown that Sunday evening of August 17, 1969, but the sun had long been hidden by the dark clouds of the approaching storm. Military and local law enforcement officials were making the rounds in this and other neighborhoods up and down the Mississippi Coast in a frantic effort to get residents to leave before it was...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 123-147)

    Camille was the most powerful storm to strike the U.S. mainland in modern history and remains today the benchmark by which all other American hurricanes are measured. Only Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that cut a swath across heavily populated south Florida in 1992, created more destruction. Other storms have matched Camille’s strength (Gilbert in 1988, Allen in 1980, and Janet in 1955), but only Camille hit landfall at peak Category 5 intensity. Thanks to the tireless research efforts of Julia Guice and others over the ensuing years, the Mississippi Gulf Coast death toll was finally confirmed at 172—...

    (pp. 148-175)

    Dawn along the Mississippi Gulf Coast on the morning of August 18, 1969, was accompanied by a clear sky, billowing white clouds, blustery winds, and subsiding sea. The sunrise also revealed horrors beyond description. Airman Gregory Durrschmidt, surveying the carnage east and west from his station at Keesler Air Force Base, thought, “The Gulf Coast looks like a war zone. Destruction fits one of two categories—demolished or gone.” Sand and a few scattered cinder blocks were all that remained of the Biloxi strip’s once-festive Fiesta Club. Baricev’s Restaurant—where Durrschmidt and his buddies had dined just two nights earlier—...

    (pp. 176-196)

    “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark,” said Wade Guice, “but you’ve got to get prepared!”

    Many residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast would have welcomed an ark that night of the monster called Camille. Although the Mississippi Coast had been the repeated target of hurricanes over the previous century—with storms reaching landfall within 100 miles of Biloxi at a frequency rate of once every 10 to 15 years—efforts to mitigate against such disasters had been inconsistent and unproductive. Evacuation routes had been poorly planned, with many extending over narrow roads and low-lying bridges that became inundated...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 197-204)
    (pp. 205-216)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 217-233)