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.
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.
The Grim Cleanup
The next few days it became obvious that it would take weeks to bring any semblance of order out of massive chaos. "This emergency will be a long one," predicted Robert M. Pierpont, National Director of the Red Cross Disaster Services, adding that he expected at least a "month-long emergency situation." The complete lack of communications made it almost impossible to coordinate the rescue efforts at first. But many organizations worked together to bring some semblance of order out of chaos. The Army sent 1000 men, mostly engineers from Ft. Benning, Georgia to clear roads and dispose of rubble. Seabees based at Gulfport moved rubble in search of bodies. A special scout dog platoon of 15 dogs and 20 men was sent to aid in the search for victims. Members of an army mortuary team assisted the FBI in identifying the dead. Marine Reservists with a bulldozer cleared streets for ambulances and other emergency vehicles. About 3300 Mississippi National Guardsmen directed traffic, among other duties; and 3000 airmen from Keesler Air Force Base cleared fallen trees from Highway U.S. 90. And telephone service crews were airlifted from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to help restore communications. The Army's Camp Shelby, near Hattiesburg, took in thousands of refugees. As is usual with disasters, Hurricane Camille brought out the best in many and the worst in a few. But most important, it showed how helpless man, of himself, is to avoid disaster. "None of us anticipated the violence of this hurricane. I was surprised at the degree of shock experienced by the victims," Director Pierpont said. "Doctors say it may not wear off for weeks." He stated that Camille posed "one of the greatest emergency operations in Red Cross history." There was no water fit to drink and no sanitary facilities. Some opportunistic merchants began selling water at $1 a quart and gasoline at $1 a gallon. But state authorities warned them they would be jailed if they charged more than standard prices for any item, no matter how scarce it was. Sightseers and looters became such a problem that limited martial law had to be enforced. Civil Defense spokesmen warned that homeless dogs were going wild from hunger and attacking people. And in Pascagoula, Mississippi — a leading shipbuilding center — hundreds of deadly snakes were driven from marshes around the famed ("singing river") Pascagoula, into town. As Navy Seabees in gas masks searched through the wasted area, they found bodies "up in the trees, under the roofs and out in the open." The stench was so bad that those without masks got sick. Low-flying planes sprayed the disaster area to combat mosquitoes and other insects swarming over the carnage of dead deer, cattle and pets. Thousands were inoculated against typhoid and tetanus. But the threat of disease was still so real that the survivors of Pass Christian were forced to evacuate. Though not a single habitable building remained, about 100 refused to join the bus convoys out of town. But the 60 miles of Mississippi coast was not the only area ravaged by Camille.
Two Vicious Sideswipes
Though the Mississippi Coast was the area directly hit by Camille, the hurricane dealt a vicious sideswipe to southern Louisiana before lambasting Mississippi. And a final blow struck the state of Virginia before she dissipated in the Atlantic. In Plaquemines Parish south of New Orleans, there are towns on the map that, for all purposes of habitation, do not exist anymore. A ten-mile strip of land between Buras and Fort Jackson in the area's orange-growing belt disappeared. "It's gone, not destroyed: it's gone," said an official of Plaquemines Parish. In the east, the storm unexpectedly dumped up to ten inches of rain in the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia. Flash floods wiped out several small hamlets and left more than 60 dead and more than 100 missing.
The Grim Totals
So far the number known to have been killed by Camille is about 300. It is estimated that the economic loss — both insured and uninsured — will exceed $1,000,000,000. The total cost in terms of human lives, suffering and economic loss has not yet been totaled and probably will never be. Was there any way this loss of life and property could have been prevented — or at least lessened?
Can Hurricanes Be Prevented?
Since 1900, more than 12,500 Americans have died in hurricanes. Ten thousand have been killed in the Gulf Coast Area. Six thousand were killed in 1900 by one hurricane in Galveston, Texas because there was no advance warning then as there is now. Since 1886, when hurricanes were first recorded, nearly 700 hurricanes and tropical storms have been reported in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Many of these died at sea. About eight to ten times a year these storms are felt on the U.S. coast. Although a hurricane can be erratic, once it gets rolling it tends to move in a westerly or northwesterly direction. Since most hurricanes are spawned in the warm waters of the western Caribbean, they tend to head inland along the Gulf Coast, building up speeds of 100 to 200 miles per hour. They can be as small as 30 miles in diameter, or as large as 100 miles. They seldom occur before June 1, or after October. Since 1953 they have been systematically named after women, apparently because, like women, they are considered unpredictable. Is there any way to prevent these devastating storms from bringing death and destruction to the U.S. Mainland? The surprising answer is that there is! And that way is not by some expensive "seeding" operation or any other scientific measure. Man cannot control hurricanes and the weather. But the Creator God claims He can and does! Maybe you never thought of it before. But in the pages of that least understood book we call the Bible are the words of a God who purports to promise any nation that will obey His laws, bountiful blessings in everything they do. Speaking in the first person this God is very explicit in naming favorable weather conditions as one of the greatest blessings He can give (Deut. 28:114; Lev. 26:1-13). The way to prevent hurricane devastation is, consequently, to obey God. In return this God promises, in the pages of this Book which He claims to have inspired, to bless a people or nation with favorable weather. But the nations have not been living obediently, and God is withholding His blessings in varying degrees. In recent years, as national sins have increased, God has allowed greater and more furious natural disasters to strike the U.S. — hoping we will learn the lesson and change our ways. As The PLAIN TRUTH has accurately been predicting for years, these disasters are going to continue to increase — both in scope and intensity (see our free book The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy). The only solution to this problem is to change our ways nationally and to turn to God. The sad fact is that our people are not inclined to do this. You as an individual, however, can be different. You can heed the warning and be protected when disasters strike.
Rejecting the Warning
One of the saddest things about the deaths caused by Hurricane Camille was that many of those who died could have been spared — if they had only heeded the warning. Though Camille did change course several times, and did not hit where expected, a 12-hour warning was given. Many thousands — an estimated 95% — heeded these warnings and fled inland. But others stubbornly ignored the warnings. "The people just won't get out. It's human nature to think the safest place is their homes," said Mayor Shaw of Gulfport. They had ridden out hurricanes before and thought they could do it again. Perhaps the most famous — or infamous — example was that involving 23 people who refused to leave their apartments in Pass Christian. Sunday evening before the storm struck, the police went to these apartments to warn everyone to get out. When they refused, the police dutifully took the names of the next of kin — while the apartment dwellers laughed. When the police came around the second time, to their surprise, they found that 23 people had moved all the furnishings to the top floor and were preparing to have a "hurricane party"! One had a drink in his hand. The police came by yet a third time — and even a fourth — to plead with these people to leave. They wouldn't listen. The next morning, 14 of the 23 were known dead, six were missing, and three were rescued from trees where they had been clinging ever since the great tide swept them from the apartment. What an unbelievable attitude! What a terrible price to pay for stubbornly refusing to heed a warning! It was interesting to note that most of the dead in the disaster area came from two age groups: the young and the old. Why the young and the old? An army sergeant guarding the ghost town of Pass Christian explained it this way: "The young said they were too tough for it to get to them, and the old ones said it never happened before and it wouldn't happen now." What a shameful commentary on human nature! What foolish reasoning! Have you ever thought how you would act if you had advance warning that a disaster was to strike your area? Would you heed the warning? Or would you ignore it? And just as important, is there anything you can be doing now to protect your life and property in case a natural disaster should happen to come your way?
Protection for YOU?
As we toured the disaster area, those on our staff could not help but notice an unusual phenomenon. Among all the destroyed or heavily damaged homes and businesses, occasionally one would stand out with little or no damage. It was as if someone had deliberately decided to totally destroy this house here, to heavily damage that business there — and to deliberately leave yet another house almost unscathed. Newsmen saw this many times. One home or business would be destroyed while another next to it would be relatively unharmed. Was this just the fickle finger of fate? Was it just blind chance? Or Lady Luck? Or was there more to it than that? Did God have anything to do with this phenomenon? Did He intervene and deliberately protect the lives and property of some while allowing that of others to be destroyed? He surely could have! And in some instances He undoubtedly did! This is not to say that every home or business that was spared was owned by an honest man, while those that were destroyed belonged to people who were evil. Neither does it mean this area is more depraved than other parts of the country. It isn't. This hurricane is a warning to all. The God who claims to speak to man in the pages of the Bible says He does not always specially punish the wicked immediately. As a part of His great plan, He sometimes allows the righteous to suffer with the wicked to a degree for a time. But this God claims He does ultimately deal with men according to the way in which they live. And in time of trouble, He grants His special protection to those who are sincerely and deeply seeking Him. He offers that protection to you — if you are but willing to take it. If you would like to learn more about God's protection, write today for our free article "There is a Way of Escape." As natural disasters continue to strike all around, you can't afford to be without this protection!