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Hurricane Camille

Hurricane Camille August 5-22, 1969



Courtesy U.S. Department of Commerce, ESSA's Climatological Data, National Summary, Volume 20, Number 8, 1969


DEVELOPMENT

Camille was spawned by a tropical wave that had moved off the African coast on the 5th of August. This inverted "V" cloud pattern travelled westward and was recognized as a tropical disturbance on the 9th, about 480 miles east of the northern Leeward islands. The following day the disturbance, still showing no circulation, moved through the Leewards causing rains throughout the islands. Then each banding. On the 14th reconnaissance aircraft flew into the disturbance, which they found south of Cuba. The penetration disclosed a 999 millibar pressure center and 55 mile per hour surface winds -- tropical storm Camille was christened.

INTENSIFICATION


The storm moved northwestward at 9 miles per hour; pressure fell to 991 millibars late on the 14th, and to 964 millibars with 115 mile per hour winds the following day. At this time, Camille was a full-blown hurricane located 60 miles southeast of Cape San Antonio, Cuba. Havana's weather radar tracked the hurricane across the western tip of Cuba on the evening of the 15th. Camille generated 92 mile per hour winds at Guane, and spread 10 inch rains over the western sections of the island. Three persons were reported killed.

Once into the Gulf of Mexico, the small, powerful hurricane instensified rapidly; by the early afternoon of the 16th, central pressure had dropped to 908 millibars. The severe storm plodded north-northwestward at 14 miles per hour. A hurricane watch had been put in effect from Biloxi, Mississippi, to St. Marks, Florida. By late afternoon, an Air Force reconnaissance team measured a 905 millibar pressure and recorded flight level (700 millibar) winds of 160 miles per hour.

Early on the 17th, with Camille 250 miles sout of Mobile, and hurricane warnings extending westward to New Orleans, Mississippi coastal residents were boarding up homes and businesses and heading inland. As the day wore on, inland moving traffic increased as did the hurricane threat to low-lying areas. Radio and television stations carried ESSA warnings every few minutes, while Police and Civil Defense officials went into isolated areas to urge people to evacuate.

One last reconnaissance flight was made early Sunday afternoon (17th), and Air Force pilot Marvin A. Little and his crew found a central pressure of 901 millibars (26.61 inches) and maximum surface winds at more that 200 miles per hour (175 knots) near the center. Due to engine trouble, this was the last penetration made. Hurricane force winds extended out to 60 miles; Camille was a small, but extremely intense hurricane located less than 100 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River. The storm was at its peak and was under surveillance of the New Orleans radar.

As Camille brushed southeastern Louisiana easterly winds ahead of the center and northerly winds to its west pushed a massive storm surge through the marshes of this area. Because of the shape of the bays and inlets, surge heights varied at different locations; water levels reached 9 feet above m.s.l. near the mouth of the Mississippi, at Garden Island. In several places, from the Empire Canal southward to Buras, Boothville, and Venice the surge poured over both the east and west bank Mississippi River levees and was trapped by the back levees, leaving the built-up areas between the levees severely flooded.



LANDFALL


The center of Camille made landfall on the now nearly-deserted Mississippi coast at about 10:30 pm., Central Standard Time, on the 17th; she passed over Clermont Harbor, Waveland, and Bay St. Louis. There were no records of winds near the center and estimates ranged up to 200 miles per hour. The storm surge reached a devastating 24.2 feet about m.s.l. at Pass Christian and was near 10 feet above m.s.l. as far east as the Mississippi- Alabama border. At the west end of the Bay St. Louis bridge there was a pressure report of 26.85 inches (909.3 millibars).

Camille weakened as she moved northward through Mississippi, passing close to Columbia, Prentis, Jackson, Canton, and Greenwood. Jackson's winds gusted to 67 miles per hour as the storm center passed 10 miles to the east. The radar at Jackson, which had picked up Camille's eye in the Gulf, followed the indentifiable circulation to southern Quitman County. The storm was only identifiable as a depression when it reached the northern Mississippi border.



OVERLAND


The depression stages of Camille were tracked northeastward through western Tennessee, east-northeastward through central Kentucky, and eastward through extreme southern West Virginia and southern Virginia. Late on the 19th, a combination of factors interacted to produce several areas of concentrated, torrential rainfall that caused devastating flash floods and landslides along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains and record flooding along the James River system.

The remnants of Camille's dying circulation moved into an area already occupied by a large, moist maritime-tropical air mass, with some existing rain areas. To the northwest of the area of maximum rainfall a narrow valley surrounded by steep ridges suggested that orographic effects on the cyclonic flow aided in producing the heavy precipitation. Thunderstorm activity ahead of a slowly approaching cold front may also have accentuated the heavy rain. In combination these meteorological factors( and perhaps others not yet ascertained) produced torrential rains which rank with other record rainfalls throughout the world. Several amounts of more than 25 inches were found on post examination, and amounts in excess of 4 inches fell over an area 20-40 miles wide and 120 miles long -- most of it occurring in a period of 8 hours.

Camille regained tropical storm intensity when she moved into the North Atlantic. However, on the 22nd, she was absorbed by a cold front about 175 miles southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland.



WINDS


Accurate wind measurements are almost impossible to obtain in a hurricane of Camille's intensity. Based on reconnaissance flight level winds and measured surface pressure, maximum surface winds were calculated at 175 knots (201.5 miles per hour), close to the center, early on the afternoon of the 17th. This calculation represents the maximum winds ever observed in a hurricane and based on something other than pure estimation. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 may have had more severe winds, but there is just no way of telling.

The highest actual measurement on a wind instrument was found on an Easterline Angus wind speed recorder which had been left running on a Tranworld Drilling Company rig located east of Boothville (Maine Pass Block 29). The recorder had been switched to double scale before evacuation and recorded an extreme gust of 172 miles per hour before the paper jammed and the trace was lost. An Air National Guard Weather Flight stationed at Gulfport Municipal Airport, estimated sustained winds in excess of 100 miles per hour and gust of 150-175 miles per hour. Other less reliable reports from the Gulport-Bay St. Louis area indicated winds of 150-200 miles per hour. At Boothville, Louisiana, 107 mile per hour gusts were recorded before a power failure; at Pillottown, Louisiana, the SS CRISTOBAL estimated winds at 160 miles per hour.

Winds at Biloxi (Keesler Air Force Base) were measured at 81 miles per hour with gusts to 129 miles her hour late on the 17th. At Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula the highest sustained wind reached 81 miles per hour while a local radio station reported 104 mile per hour winds before a power failure.

West of the storm center hurricane force winds reached only the eastern edge of New Orleans; brief gusts of 60-85 miles per hour extended over most of the city. Eastern sections of St. Tammany and Washington Parishes were swept by intense winds estimated up to 160 miles per hour in gusts at Slidell and up to 130 miles per hour in gusts at Bogalusa and Angie.

Hurricane force winds were confined close to the storm's center as it move inland. These winds extended from east of New Orleans to Pascagoula, while gusts of hurricane force winds extended along the coast from New Orleans to just west of Mobile Bay and inland to just south of Jackson.


PRESSURE


Camille's lowest pressure of 901 millibars (26.61 inches) was second only to that of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, in which a 26.35 inch (892 millibar) pressure was recorded in the Florida Keys. This stands as the lowest pressure in the North Atlantic; the world record low pressure was recorded in typhoon Ida on September 24, 1958 -- 877 millibars (25.90 inches).

The 908 millibar pressure recorded on the afternoon of August 16th marked the lowest ever recorded by reconnaissance aircraft in the North Atlantic; however, this was soon broken by the 905 millibar reading later in the day and the historic 901 millibar pressure the following day.

The lowest land pressure was observed by Mr. Charles A. Breath, Jr. of Bay St. Louis, in his home a few blocks from the west end of Bay St. Louis Bridge. He made the reading of 26.85 inches on his aneroid barometer as the eastern edge of Camille's eye passed overhead. His barometer was later checked and found to be accurate by the New Orleans Weather Bureau Office. Other low pressures included a 27.80 inch reading at Garden Island, Louisiana, and 27.90 inch at St. Stanislaus School in Bay St. Louis.



STORM SURGE


The storm surge generated by Camille flooded coastal areas from lower Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana to Perido Pass, Alabama. Flooding was most severe in the Pass Christian - Long Beach, Mississippi, area where tides up to 24.2 feet above m.s.l. were measured. In the St. Louis Bay maximum tides ran 18 feet above m.s.l., while in the Back Bay of Biloxi they were about 15 feet above m.s.l.

Maximum tides of 10 feet or more above m.s.l. extended from the Pearlington area to near the Mississippi - Alabama line. Maximum tides 15 feet or more above m.s.l. extended from Clermont Harbor to Ocean Springs. Maximum tides of 20 feet or more above m.s.l. were concentrated in an area from Bay St. Louis eastward to Edgewater Park. The highest measured surge of 24.2 feet above m.s.l. was measured within the city limits of Pass Christian; other measurements of 22.6 feet and 22.5 feet were also found at Pass Christian. Tides within the preceeding ranges were lower in some areas. Flooding was also prevalent along rivers and bayous in Mississippi. Tides ran 13-17 feet above m.s.l. from the Jordan River (Waveland) to Old Fort Bayou (Ocean Springs).

Offshore surges were put at 15-16 feet above m.s.l. based on the flood marks measured at Ship and Cat Islands. The Coast Guard reported every buoy between New Orleans and Mobile was off station and that almost all of the navigational aids had been lost. In the Mobile Bay area tides ran about 7 feet above m.s.l.

The Louisiana storm surge that swept from Empire southward, flooded Boothville with 15 feet (above m.s.l.) of water. Water levels reached 9 feet near the mouth of the Mississippi, at Garden Island. The tidal Surge also flooded some parts of lower St. Bernard Parish and eastern sections of Orleans Parish. Tide heights reached 7.97 feet above m.s.l. at Alluvial City, 8.73 feet at Chef Menteur Pass, 11.06 feet at Shell Beach, and 9.00 feet at the Rigolets. Tides on Lake Ponchatrain reached 4.0 feet above m.s.l. at Manderville, 4.6 feet at Freneir, 5.2 feet at Slidell, and 5.5 feet at Slidell, and 5.5 feet at Madisonville.



DEATHS AND DAMAGES


Hurricane Camille ranks high as one of the most destructive killer storms ever to hit the U.S. Total damage has been estimated at $1.42 billion with 258 deaths and 68 additional persons missing -- this includes the Gulf Coast and the Virginias. In round figures, the damage equals the destruction caused by Hurricane Betsy, in a much more concentrated area, in September of 1965. Betsy and Camille stand together as the two most destructive storms to ever ravage the U.S.

While most of Betsy's damage was incurred by Louisiana, Camille spent most of her wrath in Mississippi; the total figure there is estimated at $950 million; Louisiana suffered $350 million mostly in lower Plaquemines Parish.

The total U.S. deaths figure was 258 with three persons reported dead in Cuba. The U.S. figure is the highest in a hurricane since 390 persons died during Hurricane Audrey, which moved over western Louisiana in June 1957; most of these deaths, like those in Camille, were drownings.

Camille ripped a swath of destruction along the entire length of the Mississippi coast up to three or four blocks inland. She also destroyed some inland areas such as resedential sections of West Gulfport and the Biloxi suburb of D'Iberville. In low areas the rows of houses stopped a block or two from the beach and beyond a row of debris were bare foundations along the beach front. From Pascagoula to Pass Christian, and to a lesser degree farther east and west, piles of lumber, building materials and trees were thrown together by the surge. In some cases, piles of debris extended for more than a block square. Highway 90, the main coastal thoroughfare, was covered with sand in many sections and completely washed away in other sections. About one-third of the Bay St. Louis Bridge and one-half of the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge were damaged when tides lifted the spans off their supports. The Army Corps of Engineers indicated that to make some 530 miles of roads passable, about 100,000 tons of debris had to be cleared away. Mr. M. James Stevens, Vice-President of the Mississippi Resteraunt Association, reported that the Coast's resort industry suffered the worst disaster of any similar recreation area in the world. Along U.S. 90, in the Biloxi area, some 60 resort properties suffered damage with about one-half of them destroyed. Buildings on high knolls of about 20 feet or more were able to weather the high winds and survive the storm surge. Many buildings at the 10 feet level were crushed.

At Clermont Harbor, the destruction was total, and eastward to Bay St. Louis many hundreds of beach homes were destroyed. Henderson Point in the Pass Christian area was completely destroyed except for an old building that was formerly a maritime academy. In the Gulfport harbor, damage was severe. Three large cargo ships, the ALAMO VICTORY, the HULDA, and the SILVER HAWK were badly damaged and washed high aground at the north end of the harbor. At the banana wharf, all the sheet metal was stripped from the structures, but most of the framework was intact. On the west side of the harbor, most of the damage was to the lower walls of the buildings where the battering-ram effect of floating cargo carried the sides away. A large diesel fuel barge lifted out of the harbor, carried ashore, and deposited on the medial strip of U.S. 90. Farther up the beach was a large oil storage tank that had floated several miles from its original position.

The beautiful, modern marina fronting the Broadwater Beach Hotel at Biloxi appeared to be intact, but at close inspection the molded concrete covers over the boat slips had corners and pieces broken off by floating debris in the high water. Buildings along the waterfront were demolished and most of the boats were either sunk or had been washed away.

At Pascagoula's Ingalls Shipyard the large cargo ship, MORMACSUN, under construction, broke its moorings and was carried by a 12 foot rise of water onto high ground.

In Hancock County most residents live in low-lying areas. In the hamlets of Lakeshore, Clermont Park, Pearlington, Ansley and the Cedar Point seection of Bay St. Louis, destruction was almost complete. Storm surges of 15 feet and higher and devastating winds turned beach houses into stacks of driftwood. At the Mississippi Test Facility, southeast of Picayune, some 1600 refugees took shelter Sunday night (17th). The high winds and water knocked down some overhead powerlines and flooded the underground lines. Emergency generators were put into use but operations at the facility were suspended until Tuesday.

In Pearl River County there was an estimated $35-40 million loss from damage. The county agent said that about 85 percent of the dairy barns in the county were either severely damaged or were a complete loss. About 35,000-40,000 acres or bearing tung trees were destroyed. There was an additional loss in timber and heavy damage was inflicted on the pecan crop. In Poplarville, the county seat, the mayor estimated that about 90 percent of the homes sustained damage in varying degrees.

There was electric power failure throughout 14 counties, from the coast to as far north as Simpson County. In some sections this loss lasted for several days. The South Mississippi Power Company had to almost completely rebuild their distribution system, and their transmission network was badly damaged. Camille's effects were also devastating on telephone service. Of Mississippi's 765,000 telephones, approximately 15 percent were out of service. In the Gulf Coast area this figure jumped to 67 percent.

The U.S. Forest Service made an aerial survey over a 14 county area of southern Mississippi, an area of 3.8 million acres, which revealed that about 1.9 million acres of commercial forest land in 12 counties received varying degrees of damage. Observations from the air indicated that hardwood forests suffered somewhat heavier damage than pine forests. Some of the hardwood forests were completely defoliated by severe winds. The Forest Service estimates damage to Mississippi sawtimber at 1.8 billion board feet and to pulpwood at 1.4 million cords.

Damage in Louisian was confined mainly to southeastern sections with some damage in the eastern part of the state. The storm surge generated by Camille swept the area from Empire southward clean. Most structures in this area, including some that had survived hurricane Betsy, were completely demolished by the combination of wind and water. The tidal surge also flooded some parts of lower St. Bernard Parish and eastern sections of Orlean Parish. Camille's intense winds were unusually small in areal extent, particularly to the west of the center. Damage in these areas was generally minor. However, eastern sections of St. Tammany and Washington Parishes were swept by intense winds and heavy rainfall (4-6 inches), and the heavily forrested area received considerable damage. Extensive property damage resulted from trees falling on homes and businesses, utility lines and roads.

Agricultural and timber losses, including 8,000 heads of cattle.

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