Remembering Hurricane Camille, 50 years later

Remembering Hurricane Camille, 50 years later
Image from Hurricane Camille archive footage

(WAFB) - In 1969, a summer many Americans remember for Woodstock and man’s first step on the moon, a storm by the name of Camille changed everything for people along the Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Camille made landfall in the U.S. with the force of a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which was not used 50 years ago, but first emerged as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa in early August. The storm steadily traced westward over the Atlantic.

A tropical storm formed August 14 and passed over Cuba as a small hurricane, weakening slightly as it re-emerged into the Gulf of Mexico.

At first, Camille was forecast to strike the Florida Panhandle, but instead, continued on a northwesterly track, rapidly intensifying as it headed toward the northern Gulf. Prior to landfall, the Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, known as the Hurricane Hunters, reported a low pressure of 900 millibars, one of the lowest on record.

On August 17, Hurricane Camille made landfall at the mouth of the Mississippi River, near Buras, but ultimately set its sights on Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian, Mississippi.

Hurricane Camille smashed into the coast with winds approaching 175 mph and a 24-foot storm surge, inundating 800,000 acres of land in Louisiana.

Seawalls were over-topped along the Mississippi shore, pushing water three to four blocks inland along Highway 90.

By the early morning hours of August 18, what had been standing a day earlier was either destroyed or picked up and thrown to another location by the unrelenting force of Camille. The hurricane caused $1.4 billion worth of damage and 259 people were killed.

While our neighbors to the east endured the brunt of this catastrophic hurricane, southeast Louisiana was not unscathed.

Earl Armstrong, who calls Plaquemines Parish home, still has a clear memory, even five decades after the night Hurricane Camille came ashore.

"All the old people talked about the 1947 storm was the worst storm that ever hit,” Armstrong recalled. “We were all sitting on the floor with our backs against the wall and I was sitting by my uncle and I asked him, ‘So Uncle George, you think that 1947 storm was bad as this?’ He didn’t even look at me. He just shook his head. He said, ‘No this is bad.’”

Armstrong says his family lost their home and belongings.

“As long as you don’t lose your life or lose a friend or see somebody hurt, you’re doing good.”

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