Today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the strongest and historically significant storms to make landfall in the United States. At approximately 11:30 PM CDT, the small town of Bay St. Louis, MS was where the center of Hurricane Camille came ashore, causing damage the likes of which the Mississippi Gulf Coast had never seen, and wouldn’t see again until a certain K named storm destroyed much of the coast again 36 years later.
Camille was only the second storm in modern history to make landfall in the continental US as a category 5 hurricane at the time and one of only four total as of this year. As it came onshore, winds were estimated to be 175 mph with a minimum central pressure of 900mb. To put that into perspective, though a few storms were stronger during their life cycle, only the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 had a higher wind speed and lower pressure at landfall in the US.
Damage along the MS Gulf Coast was catastrophic. Buildings were leveled, trees stripped of their foliage, ships pushed inland and left sitting in yards and on top of where homes and businesses once stood, etc. Among the places destroyed was the Richelieu Manor Apartments in Pass Christian, MS. Over the years, this apartment complex became part of Camille’s lore. The story goes that a small group of people decided to ride out the hurricane and have a “hurricane party” as Camille made landfall. Of the supposed 23 people who stayed, only one survived. A child sleeping on a bed was swept away as the building was destroyed, miraculously surviving the ordeal.
The story went undisputed for many years, but was later called into question by others who were apparently at the apartment complex and survived. Either way, the story still lives on as part of Camille’s history, whether true or not.
Obviously, the damage wasn’t limited to buildings and nature. Many cars were damaged and destroyed as well. Though none of the cars affected by Camille were kept as a shrine, a certain boat was.
The Ease Point was a tugboat docked in Gulfport when Camille made landfall. After the storm, the boat was left sitting over 200 feet inland on property belonging to the parents of Lucille Moody. The family decided instead of having it removed, they would purchase the boat. The boat was moved closer to Hwy 90, the main route that runs along the MS coast, and renamed the S.S. Hurricane Camille. The tug became a tourist attraction and eventually a small gift shop was built next to it. The S.S. Hurricane Camille lived out the next 36 years, serving as a shrine to the storm it was named after as it sat peacefully next to the highway. As one major hurricane gave it a second life, though, another would ultimately lead to its downfall. In 2005, the tug was knocked off of its foundation and badly damaged in Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, the owners of the property had the S.S. Hurricane Camille demolished, ending the second life of what was one of the most visited memorials to Hurricane Camille.
Very little along the Mississippi coast was spared, including the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer located in Biloxi. The storm destroyed the church, leaving very little behind. The church was eventually rebuilt and later on a memorial was built in front of it to remember those lost in the storm. Behind the memorial was a flagpole, bent by the storm but still used to hold an American flag.
As with the S.S. Hurricane Camille, the church and the memorial sustained significant damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When comparing the photo I took above compared to the image above that, you’ll note that the flag pole was bent even further and the only thing left of the church is a frame, the church itself completely destroyed by Katrina’s winds and storm surge. making this a sort of double memorial to remind people of both Camille and Katrina.
All told, Camille caused over $900 million worth of damage to Mississippi alone and took the lives of at least 259 people. Of those, three were never identified. Those three individuals were given the names Faith, Hope, and Charity, and given a special place on the Camille memorial.
Though some dispute the actual intensity at landfall, Camille was still a very strong hurricane and one that the citizens along the coast still talk about to this day along with Hurricane Katrina.
A few months ago I moved from about an hour north of the coast to Biloxi. Though today is sunny and incredibly hot, I had never been to the memorial and felt today was the perfect day to make the short trip over to it to take some pictures and reflect. Having been a self proclaimed weather nerd for many years, I felt the need to share this information with you all today. I hope you enjoyed.