Terry’s Take: Hurricane Camille-the most powerful in U.S. history

Posted on: 10:52 pm, August 15, 2013, by

Terry Swails Weather Blog

Back on this date in 1969, hurricane Camille was rapidly intensifying over the Gulf of Mexico. In just 24 hours (August 17th) it would enter the state of Mississippi as the strongest category 5 storm to strike the United States mainland with a central pressure of 26.72″ and extreme winds of up to 190 mph.

CAMILLE MAKES HEADLINES AROUND THE U.S.

CAMILLE MAKES HEADLINES AROUND THE U.S.

PRIMITIVE AND INFREQUENT SATELLITE CAPTURE CAMILLE IN THE GULF

PRIMITIVE AND INFREQUENT SATELLITE IMAGES CAPTURE CAMILLE CROSSING THE GULF

Hurricane Camille was the last killer storm to come ashore with only last-minute warning. Satellites were already in use, but the Category 5 killer intensified quickly in the Gulf of Mexico, defied predictions that it would turn toward the Florida Panhandle and roared ashore near Bay St. Louis while people were sleeping.

CAMILLES TRACK FROM INCEPTION NEAR CUBA

CAMILLE’S TRACK FROM INCEPTION NEAR CUBA

In the last 18 hours before landfall, Camille did not take an expected turn to the east. Moreover, while Biloxi radio stations broadcast increasingly frantic warnings as the day wore on Sunday, most people in Pass Christian and areas west heard much less dire predictions from New Orleans media. Fewer than 50 percent of the population evacuated.

Meteorologists described the winds as tornado force, blowing apart houses that were not touched by the storm surge. Only Hurricane Andrew was even close in wind speed.

Camille is one of only three U.S. cyclones to be a Category 5 storm at landfall and it had the fastest recorded winds ashore, 190 miles per hour.

UTTER DESTRUCTION WHERE THE EYE CAME ASHORE NEAR PASS CHRISTIAN

UTTER DESTRUCTION NEAR THE CENTER OF THE EYE

Camille was the third deadliest U.S. hurricane in the 20th century. About 150 people died in Mississippi and Louisiana, and another 106 deaths occurred in Virginia from flash floods spawned by tropical rain as the storm broke up.

HUGE BOATS STRANDED FOLLOWING THE PASSAGE OF THE STORM SURGE

HUGE BOATS STRANDED FOLLOWING THE PASSAGE OF THE STORM SURGE

One of the most enduring myths of Camille was the death of 23 residents of the Richelieu Apartments in Pass Christian who were said to be having a “hurricane party.” Recent research suggests that eight people died in the building when 30-foot storm waves obliterated it. The attention given to the tale has obscured the overwhelming tragedy of the Williams family. While the father, Paul Williams, survived after being swept out of Trinity Church where his family had taken refuge, his wife and all 12 of his children drowned.

THE BEFORE AND AFTER IMAGES OF THE DECIMATED RICHELIEU APARTMENTS

THE BEFORE AND AFTER IMAGES OF THE DECIMATED RICHELIEU APARTMENTS

HWY 90 DESTROYED BY THE 24 FOOT STORM SURGE

HWY 90 DESTROYED BY THE 24 FOOT STORM SURGE

U.S. 90 was the main east-west route in the days before I-10. After Camille roared ashore, it was severed by waves and blocked by debris. The coast was cut off from help for days. But despite its intensity, the storm was concentrated, unlike Katrina 36 years later, and damage to New Orleans was minimal, although Plaquemines Parish suffered deadly flooding.