Focused on Mississippi: Camille changed the way hurricanes are viewed

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12 News Walt Grayson explains

Fifty years ago today people here in Mississippi were just becoming aware of the devastation that had happened during the last couple of days from Hurricane Camille.

Our Walt Grayson talked with a historian about the lasting effects from Hurricane Camille. Walt, what did you find out?

I found out Camille was a surprisingly strong storm and the effects of it are hard to measure because Katrina hit 36 years later and blurred the line between the two.

Charles Sullivan/Historian, MGCCC: Simpson, the head of the Miami Weather Service said, “I didn’t know if I was dealing with a large tornado or a small hurricane.”

Walt: It didn’t make much difference what you call it. Tornado force winds around the eye of a hurricane are still as destructive, no matter their name. And Charles Sullivan with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College at Perkinston says the immediate effects of Camille were obvious. Damage Everywhere and services like water, phones and power pretty much available nowhere. But what about the long lasting effects?

Charles Sullivan: They didn’t learn their lesson. It’s very difficult to talk about the lasting effects of Camille because Katrina overshadowed it so greatly. It destroyed a lot of homes along the beach. And they came back and they built them up again and they New Jersey-ied the Coast again. They call it New Jersey-ization because New Jersey has done a lot of that- building side by side facing the Atlantic and they get smashed. I don’t think there was a space left from Camille when Katrina wiped it all out in 2005.

Walt: Historian Charles Sullivan wrote the book on Coast hurricanes- literally in his Hurricanes of the Mississippi Gulf Coast: Three Centuries of Destruction. His conclusion after studying not only Camille and the overshadowing Katrina and the other storms in a nutshell is this:

Charles Sullivan: You gonna build on the sand you gonna get taken out. That’s all it is to it. It is going to happen. It’s not like it MAY happen, it’s going to happen.

Walt: After Camille and then, in particular Katrina, the Coast built back and is still building back stronger- with stricter building codes and with an eye toward getting the infrastructure above storm height. So the question is, will we have built back strong enough. That’s the lingering effect of Camille compounded by Katrina. The challenge- are we ever prepared enough?

I distinctly remember the damage from Katrina. Like Camille only it stretched from Pearlington on the Louisiana Border al the way to Mobile Bay. I don’t know how you get ready for something like that except be ready to get out of the way.

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