Focused on Mississippi: 50th anniversary of Hurricane Camille

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It was 50 years ago this weekend that the strongest hurricane up until that time to ever hit the United States mainland plowed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Camille was our standard for devastation until Hurricane Katrina surpassed it. Our Walt Grayson has a story with a couple of people who rode out Camille 50 years ago and tells us what they remember.

Do you remember Camille, Walt?

Yes. But I was fresh out of the Delta working in Jackson for less than a month when it hit. I did not go to the Coast, but I remember the work of these two guys on television in Jackson from back then.

Hurricane Camille began as a tropical depression August 14th of 1969 and drifted north toward the Gulf Coast for several days picking up strength. Warnings were issued for a small but powerful hurricane. The few days leading up to landfall were taken as a lark by some. Others heeded the warning and left. Jackson television reporter Jim Jefferies was sent to the coast with a photographer to cover the storm.

Jim Jeffries/Reporter: We just kind of drove around when we got down there. The weather was good. Wind was picking up but just a breeze.

Walt: Bob Bullock was a photographer with WJTV at the time. He traveled to the coast with veteran WJTV reporter and anchorman Bert Case.

Bob Bullock/Photographer: It was more than I expected. I had no idea that it would do all that much damage.

Walt: As Sunday afternoon, August 17th of 1969 drifted into Sunday night and overnight into Monday Morning the gentle breezes picked up considerable.

Jim: When it hit. It hit. I’d been a ham radio operator since I was about 12. They had a ham radio station in that operations center. Because all the phone lines were down and there was no other communications and we used the ham radio to communicate with Jackson. Finally it took our antenna down for the ham radio and I thought we were done. And of course Jackson thought we were done, too.

Bob: And then when the windows started blowing out and the water started coming up and the wind started coming up I really thought it may take the whole hotel out.

Walt: The next morning was a shock when Bob with Bert and Jim with his photographer got their first look at what the storm had done.

Jim: Talk about wreckage. The beach was just impassable. Ships up on the out of the harbor. Great big ships.

Bob: I just never realized 50 years ago what a hurricane could do.

Walt: And then came Katrina. Just an illustration of the intensity of Katrina: Camille destroyed the Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi leaving only the bell tower standing. Katrina knocked down the bell tower. Today, the Camille Monument has been restored and the place where the church stood is sort of a monument to Katrina. Camille and Katrina. Both hitting essentially the same area of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Both leaving their scars and imprinting life-long memories on those who experienced those storms

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