Hurricane Camille, a Saffir/Simpson Category 5 storm, was the worst hurricane to ever hit the US Gulf Coast in the twentieth century. It first hit land in the U.S. August 17, 1969 but continued to plague the country for 2 more days, taking many by surprise, causing death and destruction of billions of dollars in its path.
This most significant event in the history of the 20th century in the US deserves to be remembered, not only as a category 5 Hurricane causing significant deaths and economic devastation, but also as an important teaching event. The lessons learned could help save lives and livelihoods, neighbors and neighborhoods for future generations.
It was first identified as a tropical wave near the coast of Africa on August 5, 1969. Five days later on August 14, Camille was upgraded to a tropical storm, located 480 miles south of Miami. As it moved toward Cuba it gained momentum, with winds reaching 115 mph, weakening slightly over Cuba with winds at 92 mph and releasing 10 inches of rain. As it headed toward the mouth of the Mississippi river, hurricane watches and warnings were issued in the Florida panhandle, Alabama and Mississippi coasts up to Biloxi, then expanded to New Orleans and Grand Isle. A last reconnaissance flight was made on Sunday August 17 in the afternoon, where the winds were clocked at 200mph at the center. The storm at its peak extended 60 miles from the center with gales up to 180 miles. No hurricane of this magnitude had hit the US in the 20th century. Because of this flight, the intensity and magnitude of this hurricane was known, and tens of thousands of lives were saved.
The evacuation process was flawed as the exact location and magnitude of the hurricane where not known until Sunday afternoon. At that time, approximately half of the residents in the affected areas were evacuated. 18 hours before the landfall, people began boarding up their homes and trickling out of the area. As the threat became clearer, people flooded the highways with few belongings. A few hours prior to landfall, bridges were flooded, making evacuation impossible. Confusion existed between the forecasters and the public, as the latter relied on television, radio and personal communication with other people as primary information sources. The media had different accounts of the hurricane’s path and urgency to evacuate, providing conflicting information that at times was inaccurate or out-of-date.
Hurricane Camille Timeline and Damage
Hurricane Camille made landfall near midnight in the Bay St. Louis area. The volume of water was more than 3 x the flood discharge expected on the Jourdan River on the average of once in 50 years, estimated to be 90,000 cfs. Pass Christian, and portions of Biloxi and Long Beach were flooded. People scrambled to the highest points in their homes, churches or work areas. Sea vessels were pushed inland. 150 people died on the storm’s passage along the Gulf.
The storm lost strength as it headed to the northern Mississippi border, being downgraded to a tropical storm with wind gusts up to 67 mph. As it reached Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio it hit large masses of moisture, and Tuesday, August 19, created record flooding in Virginia’s James River watershed. It rained for over 8 hours, creating more than 10 inches of rain accumulation near Clifton Forge, Virginia. The rain, flash floods and landslides created the worst natural disaster ever in Virginia. As most people slept, roads and communication lines were destroyed, offering little chance for warning and evacuation. Large trees plundered, streams rose and people were trapped in their devastated houses. 107 deaths and 102 injuries were attributed to this flooding. Only one highway in the state of Virginia was intact. 133 bridges were affected as well as most primary and secondary roads with damage at 19 million dollars.
The immediate damages, relief costs and recovery costs from Hurricane Camille were immense. Immediate damage includes individual private property damage, public property damage ex. Churches and schools, damage to vehicles and machinery, infrastructure such as roads and bridges. Relief costs included emergency services during and immediately after the hurricane, including housing. Recovery costs included funds to rebuild roads and infrastructure, farms, homes and industries, lost revenue to taxes which was ongoing for several years. A total cost of Hurricane Camille exceeded 1.12 billion dollars, valued in 1969 dollars.
More than 5000 mobile homes were provided and 16,500 military personnel were dispatched to the area. Enormous reconstruction efforts lasted for years. Aid was provided b the American Red Cross. Defense, Commerce and Economic Development branches of the government assisted in the recovery phase. There was a growing pest problem of flies and mosquitoes.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was in its infancy, thus people’s properties were not covered. 20% of flood damaged properties were covered by private insurance.
More than 257 deaths, innumerable injuries and billions of dollars (over 1.12 billion) in damage were the direct result of Hurricane Camille.
Three barrier islands off the coast separating the Mississippi Sound from the Gulf of Mexico, were devastated: two islands lost more than 300 acres to erosion, and the third, was breached.
Immediately following Hurricane Camille, the Weather Bureau with the Department of Defense began a study of ways to better predict the direction and intensity of hurricanes. This study was spurred by Vice President Agnew’s statement that Hurricane Camille forecasting may have been inadequate.
What is different today?
More people inhabit the hurricane-prone regions of the United States, as wealth has increased and people have moved to the coast. Estimated financial costs of a hurricane today approach 100 billion dollars.
Homes are constructed with improved building practices, although no one uniform building code with hurricane-related conditions has been accepted by the coastal communities. Should such a code have been implemented prior to Hurricane Camille, damages would have been less. A portion of land was re-zoned for commercial or public use such as beaches, zoos, marinas and amusement parks. This was to decrease the density of the population in the affected areas.
We have better access to satellite and up-to-date reliable sources of communication with access to the internet and agencies such as the National Hurricane Center. We also, unfortunately have had even more experience with Hurricanes, notably Katrina.
The National Flood Insurance Program exists today, providing assistance to affected families.
Detailed by Pielke and Pielke (1997)
- Hurricanes are the most costly of natural disasters around the world. Hurricane Camille was the most costly at its time. Certainly Hurricanes Andrew (1992) and Katrina (2005) have reminded us of this fact.
- Hurricane damages are dramatically increasing, because of the nation’s growth along the coastal areas.
- A large loss of life is a distinct possibility. Although we have improved satellite and communications available, the number of people in the coastal regions has grown exponentially.
- Improved forecasting is available and will continue to improve, but we have to use them effectively. We now have a longer lead time, up to 24 hours vs. 18 hours.
- Climate varies across time. Hurricanes are said to follow decade long patterns. This makes predicting complicated. Are we ready for the next hurricane?
- Better knowledge of hurricanes needs to be applied to make effective change. Society acknowledges need to improve responses to hurricane. How do we turn that knowledge into action and power?
The storm surge is responsible for the majority of those deaths, which is true of most hurricanes. Storm surge is basically the rising of the water due to the hurricane’s central pressure and also the winds pushing the water on shore. For example, 1969’s Camille packed winds at a whopping 190 miles per hour. It was one of only three Category 5 hurricanes to hit the U.S. this century. Yet neither Camille nor Andrew rank in the top 10 for deadliest storms on file.
Over ¾ of the deaths associated with a hurricane are caused by drowning, in either Fresh water or Salt water. In a report of US Hurricane Mortality1970-1999, 59% of deaths were caused by drowning in Fresh Water, 25% were caused by drowning in Salt water, wind 12.7%, tornado 0.04% other 0.01 %.
Storm historians think the Florida Keys 1935 Labor Day hurricane was perhaps the most intense hurricane ever – even though no wind measurements are available. The deadliest occurred in Texas on September 8, 1900, with over 8000 deaths confirmed and up to 12,000 estimated. The 3rd worst hurricane in US history was Hurricane Katrina.
What to do in the event of a hurricane?
Here is a list of the many empowering things to consider before, during and after a hurricane. Some of the safety rules will make things straightforward and simpler for you during a hurricane. All are vitally important and could help save your life and the lives of others.
Stay or Leave?
When a hurricane threatens your area, you will have to make the decision whether you should evacuate or whether you can ride out the storm in safety at home.
If local authorities recommend evacuation, you should leave! Their advice is based on knowledge of the strength of the storm and its potential for death and destruction.
Do’s and Don’ts during Hurricane Season
- If you live on the coastline or offshore islands, plan to leave.
- If you live near a river or in a flood plain, plan to leave.
- If you live on high ground, away from coastal beaches, consider staying. In any case, the ultimate decision to stay or leave will be yours. Study the following list and carefully consider the factors involved especially the items pertaining to storm surge. When in doubt, LEAVE!!!
- At the beginning of Hurricane Season (June) or sooner, make a plan for action (see Disaster Prevention below)
- Learn the storm surge history and elevation of your area
- Learn safe routes inland
- Learn location of official shelters
- Determine where to move your boat in an emergency
- Trim back dead wood from trees
- Check for loose rain gutters and down spouts
- If shutters do not protect windows stock boards to cover glass (see Secure your Home below).
When a Hurricane Watch is Issued for Your Area
- Check often for official bulletins on radio, TV, or NOAA Weather Radio
- Fuel all cars completely
- Check and secure mobile home tie-downs
- Moor small craft or move to safe shelter
- Stock up on canned provisions (See Disaster Supply Kit below)
- Check supplies of special medicines and drugs
- Check batteries for radio and flashlights
- Secure lawn furniture and other loose material outdoors
- Tape, board, or shutter windows to prevent shattering (see Secure your Home below)
- Wedge sliding glass doors to prevent their lifting from their tracks
When a Hurricane Warning is Issued for Your Area
- Stayed turned to radio, TV, or NOAA Weather Radio for official bulletins
- Stay home if sturdy and on high ground Board up garage and porch doors
- Move valuables to upper floors
- Bring in pets
- Fill containers (bathtub) with several days supply of water for drinking, food preparation and hygiene.
- Turn up refrigerator to maximum cold and don’t open unless necessary
- Use phone only for emergencies
- Stay indoors on the downwind side of house away from windows
- Beware of the eye of the hurricane
- Leave mobile homes
- Leave areas which might be affected by storm tide or stream flooding
- Leave early in daylight if possible, mostly leave as quickly as possible
- Shut off water and electricity at main stations
- Take small valuables and papers but travel light
- Leave food and water for pets (shelters will not take them)
- Lock up house
- Drive carefully to nearest designated shelter using recommended evacuation routes.
After the All-Clear is Given
- Drive carefully; watch for dangling electrical wires, undermined roads, flooded low spots
- Don’t sight-see
- Report broken or damaged water, sewer, and electrical lines
- Use caution re-entering home
- Check for gas leaks
Preparing for a hurricane can be the most critical thing you can do to keep the people you love and your things safe and secure. Below you will find 5 hurricane checklists that will help you prepare for an imminent natural disaster, including a hurricane.
Disaster Prevention must include these 5 critical steps:
- Develop a Family Plan
- Create a Disaster Supply Kit
- Have a Place to Go
- Secure your Home
- Have a Pet Plan
Planning and preparation are key! Disaster prevention includes having the supplies on hand to weather the storm, modifying your home to strengthen it against storms so that you can be as safe as possible. The suggestions provided here are only guides. You should use common sense in your disaster prevention.
- DEVELOP A FAMILY PLAN – Hurricane Checklist 1
Your family’s plan should be based on your vulnerability to hurricane hazards, such as storm surge, flooding and wind. You should keep a written plan and share your plan with other friends or family. It should be revised annually.
Locate a safe room or the safest areas in your home for each hurricane hazard. In most circumstances the safest areas may not be your home but within or even outside your community.
Determine escape routes from your home and safe meeting places. These should be measured in tens of miles, based on where hurricanes and other storms tend to hit in your area.
Have an out-of-state friend as a family contact, so all your family members have a single point of contact. This will make facilitate communication, providing ease of mind.
Make a plan now for what to do with your pets if you need to evacuate (see below).
Post emergency telephone numbers by your phones and make sure your children know how and when to call 911. Provide actual scripts for them and practice yearly.
Prepare a list of internet searches for hurricane information, watches and quick up-to-date information.
Check your insurance coverage – flood damage is not usually covered by private homeowners insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) can provide additional information of coverage for an actual hurricane. It is a pre-disaster flood mitigation and insurance protection program designed to reduce the escalating cost of disasters. The NFIP makes federally backed flood insurance available to residents and business owners. For more information call 1-888-CALL-FLOOD ext. 445, TDD# 1-800-427-5593.
Stock non-perishable emergency supplies and a Disaster Supply Kit (see below).
Use a NOAA weather radio. Remember to replace its battery every 6 months, as you do with your smoke detectors. It can be stored in your Disaster Supply Kit.
Take First Aid, CPR and disaster preparedness classes.
- CREATE A DISASTER SUPPLY KIT – Hurricane Checklist 2
There are essential items, critical for your family’s survival. The disaster supply kit is crucial, whether you evacuate or stay in your home. Most people do not have adequate supplies. It should last for 3-7 days:
Water – at least 1 gallon daily per person for drinking, food prep and hygiene.
Food (dried or canned) and accessories (can opener, matches, portable stove, pots)
Blankets / Pillows / Sleeping bags, etc.
Clothing – seasonal / rain gear/ sturdy shoes
First Aid Kit / Medicines / Prescription Drugs / Vitamins
Special Items – for babies (formula, diapers) and the elderly, pets
Toiletries / Hygiene items including soap and toilet paper / Moisture wipes
Flashlight / Batteries
Radio – Battery operated and NOAA weather radio
Telephones – Fully charged cell phone with extra battery and a traditional (not cordless) telephone set.
Cash (with some small bills) and Credit Cards – Banks and ATMs may not be available for extended periods.
Toys, Books and Games
Important documents – in a waterproof container or watertight re-sealable plastic bag
— insurance, medical records, bank account numbers, Social Security card, passports etc.
Tools – keep a set with you during the storm
Vehicle fuel tanks filled
- Have A Place To Go – Hurricane Checklist 3
Develop a family hurricane preparedness plan before an actual storm threatens your area. For your evacuation plan, consider the following points:
Leave immediately! If ordered to evacuate, do not wait or delay your departure. Leave before local officials issue an evacuation order for your area. Even a slight delay in starting your evacuation will result in significantly longer travel times as traffic congestion worsens.
Select an evacuation destination that is nearest to your home, preferably in the same county, or at least minimize the distance over which you must travel in order to reach your intended shelter location. In choosing your destination, keep in mind that the hotels and other sheltering options in most inland metropolitan areas are likely to be filled very quickly in a large, multi-county hurricane evacuation event.
If you decide to evacuate to another county or region, be prepared to wait in traffic.
The large number of people in this state who must evacuate during a hurricane will probably cause massive delays and major congestion along most designated evacuation routes; the larger the storm, the greater the probability of traffic jams and extended travel times.
If possible, make arrangements to stay with the friend or relative who resides closest to your home and who will not have to evacuate. Discuss with your intended host the details of your family evacuation plan well before the beginning of the hurricane season.
If a hotel or motel is your final intended destination during an evacuation, make reservations immediately once you decide to leave. Most hotel and motels will fill quickly once evacuations begin. The longer you wait to make reservations, even if an official evacuation order has not been issued for your area or county, the less likely you are to find hotel/motel room vacancies, especially along interstate highways and in major metropolitan areas.
Make sure that you fill up your car and a spare container with gas, before you leave.
- SECURE YOUR HOME – Hurricane Checklist 4
The most critical precaution you can take to reduce damage to your home and property is to protect the areas where wind can enter. Recent wind technology research indicates it’s vital to strengthen the exterior of your house so wind and debris do not forcefully rip large openings in it. Protect and reinforce these critical key areas:
- Garage Doors
A great time to start securing your house is when you are making other improvements or adding an addition. Contact the local building code official to find out what requirements are necessary for your home improvement projects. Building codes reflect the lessons experts have discovered from past catastrophes and hurricanes.
- Secure your gable end wall during construction or renovation.
- Cement the shingle tabs to the underlying shingles, as shingles are usually not designed to resist hurricane force winds. Place two spots of quick-setting asphalt cement about the size of a quarter under each tab with a putty knife or caulking gun.
- Attach Roof Sheathing with Adhesive. According to static pressure tests, using the wood adhesive can increase the wind uplift resistance of the plywood roof sheathing by as much as three times the conventional method of securing the sheathing with nails.
- Reinforce your roof using metal hurricane straps or clips to provide the proper measure of strength and safety for the roof-to-wall connection.
- Install impact-resistant shutters over all large windows and glass doors. The American Plywood Association (APA) – The Engineered Wood Association offers a series of five Hurricane Shutter designs which all can be downloaded from the APA’s Web site at no cost.
- Use adequate fasteners dependant on your house type to attach the panels over the openings when a hurricane approaches.
- Have temporary shutters stored and ready to use since building supply stores generally sell out of these materials quickly during a hurricane warning.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of permanent shutters, by gently leaning against them to see if they yield. Inspect the shutter connectors for obvious excessive wear or missing connectors.
- Install impact-resistant windows and doors, which resemble ordinary ones. The difference is they capable of resisting impacts from large objects.
If your doors are solid wood or hollow metal they probably can resist wind pressures and hurricane debris. However, if you are not sure whether they are strong enough, do take these precautions:
- Install head and foot bolts on the inactive door of double-entry doors.
- Make sure your doors have at least three hinges and a dead bolt security lock which has a minimum one inch bolt throw length.
- Wedge sliding glass doors to prevent their lifting from their tracks prior to evacuation.
Double-wide garage doors are more susceptible to wind damage than single doors due to width. Unless you have a tested hurricane-resistant door, the wind may force it out of the roller track — especially if the track is light weight or some of the anchor bolts are not in place. This occurs because the door deflects too much under excessive wind pressure and fails.
To secure your garage door:
- Check with your local government building official to see if there are code requirements for garage doors in your area.
- Check with your local building supplier or garage door retailer to see if a retrofit kit is available for your garage door.
- Reinforce your double-wide garage door at its weakest points. Install horizontal and/or vertical bracing onto each panel, using wood or light gauge metal girds bolted to the door mullions. You may also need heavier hinges and stronger end and vertical supports for your door.
- Make sure the door is balanced by lowering it about halfway and letting go, if you retrofit your garage door with a kit that allows you to operate the door after it is installed. If the door goes up or down, the springs will need adjusting. Note: Since the springs are dangerous, only a professional should adjust them.
- Purchase garage door retrofit kits to withstand hurricane winds at your local building supply store, if you are unable to retrofit your garage door with a kit specifically designed for your door. Verify if the supplier can do the installation.
- Have a Pet Plan – Hurricane Checklist 5
Contact your veterinarian or local humane society for information on preparing your pets for an emergency. Have a separate pet disaster supply kit, with all listed items.
Your Pet – Before the hurricane season
- Ensure that your pets are current on their vaccinations, and obtain written documentation. Pet shelters may require proof of vaccines.
- Have an up-to-date photograph
- Keep a collar with identification on your pet and have a leash on hand to control your pet.
- Have a pet carrier for each animal. Carriers should be large enough for the animal to stand and turn around.
- Plan your evacuation strategy and keep your pet in mind. Specialized pet shelters, animal control shelters, veterinary clinics and friends and relatives out of harm’s way are potential places of safety for your pet during a potential disaster.
- If you plan to shelter your pet – work it into your evacuation route planning.
Your Pet – During a hurricane watch or warning
- Animals brought to a pet shelter are required to have: Proper identification collar and rabies tag, proper identification on all belongings, a carrier or cage, a leash, an ample supply of food, water and food bowls, any necessary medications, specific care instructions and news papers or trash bags for clean-up.
- Bring pets indoor well in advance of a storm – reassure them and remain calm.
- Pet shelters will be filled on first come, first served basis. Call ahead, determine availability and reserve immediately.
Your Pet – After the All-Clear of a hurricane
- Walk pets on a leash until they become re-oriented to their home and environment. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered. Pets could easily be confused and become lost. More potential threats exist as possible downed power lines, reptiles brought in with high water or debris may be present.
- In the event that pets cannot be found after a hurricane, contact the local animal control office to find out where lost animals may be recovered. Bring along a picture of your pet if possible.
- After a hurricane, animals may become aggressive or defensive. Monitor their behavior.
Pet Disaster Supply Kit
• Proper identification including immunization records
• Ample supply of food and water
• A carrier or cage
• Muzzle, collar and leash
Outside of personal (individual and family) actions during a hurricane, there is a great deal to be done at the community level. Many communities on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have made plans for action in the event a hurricane threatens, such as demarcation of areas to be evacuated, shelter-designations, evacuation routes, and emergency operations of fire, police, and other public service units.
Many exposed coastal communities are not prepared for a hurricane. Others have waited for disaster’s expensive lesson before taking corrective steps. To encourage community preparedness, NOAA’s National Weather Service has invented a town, named Homeport, and made it a model of hurricane preparedness.
Don’t let the lessons from previous hurricanes be in vain or futile. Call your local authorities to make plans into action for your community. Encourage your friends, relatives and neighbors to do the same. This will reduce the magnitude of a tragedy and save lives.