Sunday, August 28, 2005

Camille - A Reminiscence

Katrina Sunday Morning - 9:45 a.m.

Media weather experts Sunday morning are all comparing Katrina with Hurricane Camille, which came ashore at Pass Christian, Louisiana, August 17, 1969. It is an apt, but perhaps understated, parallel. Camille was a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 180 m.p.h. or more. In diameter, however, it was a much smaller storm than Katrina appears likely to be -- at least at this moment.

This morning, a reader sent us a second-hand reminiscence of Camille that drives home the gravity of the storm now bearing down on the Gulf Coast:
Katrina is a monster storm, much larger (wider) and likely more devastating than the historic Camille -- also a Category 5 storm, as is Katrina now.

I am too young to remember Camille. But I heard a Camille story from an old timer on [Pensacola] Beach ten years ago. I had hired him to help repair damage from Hurricane Opal.

In 1969, he was a young man in his twenties and out of work, he told me, when Hurricane Camille hit Louisiana. It not only flattened buildings, he said, but dug up all the cemeteries, too.

After the storm passed, he was able to pick up a job driving a dump truck in Biloxi. And he was glad to have it at the time.

Biloxi is maybe 30 or 40 miles east of where the storm came ashore. The guy told me that for six months it was sheer devastation everywhere there. No trees, roads, no buildings, no cemetaries, even. Absolutely all familiar landmarks were gone.

Hundreds of dump trucks were enlisted to begin the clearing of storm debris. They would drive up in a tight line to a group of bulldozers to receive their loads of loose debris. Then they would form a convoy and head out, in a long, single-file line, so as not to get lost among all the piles of rubble. Back and forth, back and forth they went -- seven days a week for months.

In the trucks ahead of him, he told me, he would often see detached arms and legs and even heads rolling around in the debris and dropping off onto the ground. There were so many dead bodies and so many uprooted cemetaries he couldn't tell if the body parts were from "old" corpses or new ones.

The job lasted for six months. He said as poor as he was then, the job wasn't worth it and he was sorry he had done it. It gave him nightmares for years after that.

It may not happen like that this time. One hopes the Mississippi delta can weaken this storm. But if Katrina hits New Orleans head on, it's likely to be a living nightmare for many thousands of people for years to come.

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