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Greatest storm in U.S. history

HERE IS an eyewitness report from the Gulf Coast area ravaged by Hurricane Camille.
Read what this disaster means to the U.S. — and to you.


Gulfport, Mississippi

"INDESCRIBABLE!" "Unbelievable!" "Impossible — but it happened!" "Unreal, man just unreal!"

This was the way dazed survivors of killer Camille described the hurricane to PLAIN TRUTH reporters on the morning after the night of horror.

They — and we — had never seen anything like the scene of destruction now before us. Neither had government officials, experienced newsmen, and even service veterans who had seen the devastation of war.


Greatest in U.S. History

"Camille was the greatest storm of any kind that has ever affected this nation," said Dr. Robert H. Simpson, Chief of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, as he toured the stricken area. Dr. Simpson also described the hurricane as "the greatest recorded storm ever to hit a heavily populated area of the Western Hemisphere."

"It was more gruesome than anything television or newspaper pictures can show," the hurricane expert said. "I never saw anything like this."

"It reminded me of the meat chopper action of a Midwest tornado," he continued. "It looked like two or three dozen Midwestern tornadoes had followed each other . . . The area where the highest winds went through left debris that looked like it had been put through a meat grinder."

The Director of the Hurricane Center said the exact maximum velocity of the winds will never be known. But he added, "I would conservatively estimate they ranged at or above 200 miles per hour" — on the threshold of tornado intensity.

"Hurricane Camille was a tightly knotted, little storm," Dr. Simpson explained, "but it was the most intense we've ever recorded."

Vice President Agnew and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development George Romney, also expressed amazement at what they saw in their helicopter sweep across the battered coast.

"The magnitude of the storm was greater than I had expected," the Vice President said. "What I saw was equivalent to 100 tornadoes. The damage was so high that Federal assistance will run higher than ever before."

Secretary Romney added, "It was as though a giant hand had swept everything away. . ."

Those of us on The PLAIN TRUTH staff who toured the stricken area had seen wider areas of destruction in other storms. We had also seen more vicious destruction in very small areas hit by tornadoes.

But never before had we seen a combination of such thorough destruction over such an extended area. Sixty miles of prized shoreline — "the Riviera of the Western Hemisphere" lined with homes and resort facilities — had been battered beyond belief by the wind and the tidal wave.


Destruction beyond Description

The storm struck land about 10 p.m. Sunday. It raged violently for about four hours as it passed over.

The following morning, our staff was given special clearance to fly by private aircraft into the disaster area from New Orleans. We hoped to land at Gulfport, but communications had been knocked out by the storm, and it was uncertain whether or not this would be possible.

As we flew eastward from New Orleans, the effect of the hurricane became more evident. Acres of trees were bent over or broken off, looking like so much grass trampled by giant feet. Houses began to appear without shingles, roofs, or walls. Debris and litter were scattered seemingly everywhere.

Soon we were over the little town of Waveland, Mississippi — or what used to be Waveland. This little village of some 1,100 people had been all but literally wiped off the map. But this was just the beginning.

Ahead lay bruised and battered Bay St. Louis (pop. 5,000). Railroad tracks had been swept like wisps of straw off the trestle across the Bay St. Louis Bridge.

At the east end of the toll bridge over St. Louis Bay, a scene of fantastic destruction came into view. We stared in utter disbelief at the devastation a few hundred feet below. From the air it looked as if someone had spilled a giant handful of toothpicks.

In a few minutes we were over Pass Christian. The center of the storm had passed between this little town of several thousand inhabitants and its neighbor some five miles east, Long Beach. Not much was left of these towns, which took the brunt of the 200-mileper-hour wind and 30-foot tidal wave.

In Pass Christian several hundred had gathered in the school buildings. And as waves surged around them, parents held their small children over their heads.

Any verbal description of the destruction would be inadequate.

On the beachfront in Gulfport itself, our attention was attracted by yet another unbelievable sight. Three large ocean freighters had been thrown up on the sand like giant surfboards!

We spotted the airport, and after determining that the runway was all right, made a visual landing. The airport itself was a mess — though not as bad as it could have been. The control tower was out of commission, all airport buildings had been damaged, and several small planes had been smashed by the fierce wind.

It was only after landing at the airport that we began to realize that we were among the very first ones to enter the area after the storm.

A local citizen graciously offered to take us anywhere he could in his car. We threaded our way first to downtown Gulfport, formerly beautiful vacation Mecca and shipping center.


Gulfport Hit Hard

Block after block of this city of some 35,000 was left in shambles. Except for some structures directly on the coast, most buildings were still standing. But the storefronts and windows had been broken and literally hundreds of stores had been gutted by the 30-foot tidal wave. National Guardsmen were on duty to prevent looting, though in many instances it appeared that there was little left to loot.

On the beach front itself, virtually all buildings had been leveled as the accompanying photos show. Jetsam of every description littered Interstate Highway 90 — the main east-west roadway for the Gulf Coast. But one of Gulfport's leading beach-front tourist attractions, Beauvoir, last home of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, miraculously escaped damage.

Train rails to the port area had been twisted as if they were mere baling wire. A cat-food factory in the port area had been leveled, and huge piles of cans littered the area.

Nearby were the three freighters that had been thrown up on dry land. The seamen from one of these ships described their night of terror for us. Their ships had been torn loose from their moorings, and the wind and waves kept bashing the three ships together during the storm. When the tidal wave finally went out it left the ships huddled together on dry land. One ship had a 28-foot hole ripped in its side by another ship. Several of the seamen told us that this experience was so terrifying that they were leaving the merchant marine!

As we walked through the devastated port area, we happened upon the Port Director, Edwin A. Stebbins, who was out surveying the damage. The port office building had been completely wiped out. Nothing remained — except the port office safe which was lying on its side in the mud. Mr. Stebbins said the port was more than 90 percent destroyed, and that would cost between 8 and 9 million dollars to rebuild it.


Battered Biloxi

After leaving the port area, we continued by car on Interstate Highway 90 to Biloxi, the home of Keesler Air Force Base, some twelve miles to the east. The highway was heavily damaged and barely passable. Several major detours were necessary to get to Biloxi. It is estimated that it will take two years to reconstruct the highway.

All along the way the scene was one of destroyed and damaged homes, apartments, hotels, motels, and businesses.

At one point where an overhead pedestrian crosswalk went over the highway, the road became—impassible. Debris from what used to be several plush motels was stacked on the roadway some five to six feet deep! It was one of the most spectacular scenes of destruction this writer has ever seen.

By now it was getting on toward evening, and many of the 200,000 who had fled before Camille's onslaught were beginning to return home. And all too many sightseers and looters were coming with them.