HALF A MILLION FLEE INLAND LARGEST MASS EXODUS OF RECENT TIMES TEXAS AT LARGE It was early Monday. An announcer on a radio station in El Campo finished his news report and added: “We’re all shook up, as you can probably tell from my voice. I’ve never been in a hurricane before. I’m just going to try to calm myself just as we’ve been telling our listeners to do.” . Throughout a large part of Texas and Louisiana this week, human beings gathered together to calm themselves, to huddle in flimsy shelters, to warn their fellows of dangers, to crowd together in makeshift refugee centers as far inland as Dallas and Fort Worth -as the worst American storm since 1900 ravaged and killed. The Red Cross called the retreat from Hurricane Carla “the greatest evacuation of persons in the face of a national calamity in modern times.” As many as 500,000 may have fled northward in both states; in Texas more than 70 counties became refugee havens. By early Thursday the death toll had risen to 31 from Hurricane Carla and a series of tornadoes which were her offspring. Officials faced the grim job of clearing away the debris along 250 miles of coastline. They warned that many more bodies might be discovered. Some will never be found. The most vicious of the accompanying tornadoes lashed Galveston after the hurricane had subsided, leaving at least six known dead and more than 200 injured. The first of two twisters hit the county courthouse where 1,000 refugees were housed, then raked 20 blocks of a residential area Dozens of federal agencies are now involved in giving direct aid to the entire devastated area. President Kennedy, if so requested by Gov. Price Daniel, will declare the Texas coastlands a national disaster area. The mass exodus last weekend and early this week was a dramatic demonstration of what modern science and communications can do in face of an emergency. The hurricane was tracked hourly for days, long before it bombarded the coast with 140mile winds Sunday and before it hit Matagorda Island, halfway between Galveston and Corpus Christi, Monday afternoon. The winds were sometimes as strong as 175 miles. Radio stations worked 24-hour schedules. The Red Cross, ‘Civil . Defense, National Guard, and other groups were credited almost universally with performing splendid jobs. “I’ve never seen anything like this operation in my career,” the assistant national director of the Red Cross said, “and believe me, I’ve seen plenty of disasters.” The Associated Press reported Sunday: “Up from the Gulf of Mexico they swarmed inland perhaps the greatest flight in American history. Bumper to bumper, begging for a hotel room, jamming grocery stores for food to carry them just a little farther on they fled. “They fled in swank, air-conditioned automobiles, tail fins flying high. They chugged along in battered vehicles of ancient vintage.” Hotels and motels in towns as far north as Austin were quickly filled to capacity. Three coastal towns, Port Alto, Port ‘O’Connor, and Olivia, bore the full fury of the hurricane and were almost completely destroyed. Rescue workers are still searching, ‘Bob Brister of the Houston Chronicle wrote, “through a , THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 2 September 15, 1961 stench of debris, bloating animals, overturned boats, house roofs, dead cattle, and live rattlesnakes. The entire area is a snake-pit.” Port Aransas and Mustang Island, which also suffered major damage, were officially ‘quarantined Wednesday to prevent an outbreak of typhoid. In Texas City some 2,000 refugees faced a night in three shelters without drinking water, electricity, or sanitary facilities. Four feet of water flowed through downtown streets. A little boy beseeched a shelter director to save his dog from drowning. When several buses from Houston finally came to evacuate the victims, one old lady said, “I’m sick my heartI don’t want to go.” T. V. Thompson of Life Magazine, who was near Galveston Beach when the hurricane first hit, said the tides crashed against the seawall and threw spray ’75 to 100 feet in the air. “It is something like seeing hundreds upon hundreds of Old Faithfuls.” Downtown Houston, 60 miles , from Galveston, was almost deserted. “Mannequins in high-style fall fashions stared out through taped glass windows at a ghost city,” one reporter wrote. The Padre Island causeway near Corpus Christi was all but demolished. Total damage to homes, buildings, and crops will rise to unprecedented millions. There were reports President Kennedy would personally fly to Texas, but these were discounted by his press staff. Vice-President power lines \(“sparks just poppin’ around in the streets, like a ing, stripping, and shredding tin roofs, and so madly tearing through the tortured trees, the limbs seemed to be holding on. The storm’s eye veered east a few miles and punished Edna much more than Victoria, where damage was comparatively light. Edna’s winds reached 150 miles an hour. Inside the darkened mansion, a Port O’Connor couple, Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Muske, wondered about their boathouses, three boats, apartments, and house in Port O’Connor. They did not have much hope. Their little brother in the town had taken pictures of his house washing away down a fifty-foot bluff , the water was eating away. A bulldozer left on the sand in front of their own beach house had been undermined by the water and wind as they watched it and toppled over. A few cars were moving. We drove to one of the public shelters. Rev. W. E. Howard, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Victoria, a native of South Georgia, stretched out on his office couch, his cowboy boots propped on the farther armrest. After a spell he said to us, “Well, we’ve got some more room.. .. We got some more room. We wouldn’t turn nobody away.” There were 400 people in his shelter, mostly Mexican workers and their families. “We’ve got Nigras, Mexicans, Anglos,” Howard said. “We’ve got some Mexican cotton pickers picking cotton near Port Lavaca when they got stranded. And we’ve got a lot of members of our church.” He explained he had put “Mexicans and first-corners” in the unfinished second floor and in rooms around the main hall on the first floor. His own church members Johnson will come. Sens. Yarborough and Tower already have. The requirements for surplus federal food in the devastated area, one government spokesman said, may set a national record. were bedded in rooms shut off from the others. Except for the children; the refugees showed little animation. An old Mexican lady her son said was 110 years old lay among her family, mumbling quietly. In the common room a Mexican boy about 14 played the guitar and sang silly songs to amuse a bunch of the kids. Now and then while he was singing one of the kids would sneak up and pinch out the candle, and that would unfailingly send them into much laughter. They did not have enough food. Monday afternoon, for example, they got half a cheese sandwich each, and nothing else during the evening. The cold water was dirtied by the storm, but they had clean water from the building’s hot water heating system. There was nothing for them to do but sit around in the dark, warm labyrinths of the church and wait. A lot of them clustered near windows despite warnings that they should not; it was cooler near them. During the evening and night some of the men and boys would go stand outside under the cement overhang in front of the church and watch the wind blow leaves and milk cartons past. At the shelter in the courthouse, 200 or 300 persons, almost entirely Latin-Americans, slept on the floors of the halls or the benches in the courtroom. One man said only about 50 had been fed that day, and he had not been one of them. The dispatcher in the sheriff’s department said roofing had been torn off and carports thrown into the street in a two-block area of poorer homes in town. The police sergeant said their cars were not cruising the town, but were answering emergency calls. Late Monday night, Rev. Howard guided the two reporters on a car tour of the town. The damage was general but minor. At A number of federal relief agencies are setting up shop in Houston. And in the wake of the storm came the stories. It will take weeks to assimilate them all. A Texas City man, Clarence Webber, was trapped by tidal floods on the roof of a cowshed at Dagger’s Bend on Galveston Bay. He told Bob Tutt of the Houston Chronicle: “I didn’t think I was going to make it. I just kept praying’that the cowshed would hold up. About a dozen cows and a couple of horses tried to get up on the roof, but I kicked them down. I was afraid they would weigh the shed down and make it fall over. I imagine the cows drowned, but the horses should have had enough sense to swim for land. “Before long other animals started crawling up on the roof with me. There were nutria, ‘possums, rats, two dogs, rattlesnakes, ducks, and some other peculiar animals I didn’t know. The animals didn’t bother each other. They must have realized the danger from the storm. Some nutria tried to chew my clothes. I kicked a couple of ducks to see if they would fly. They just looked at me and moved over. I said, ‘do that during the hunting season and see what happens.’ ” Gene Wilburn of the Houston Press rode out the storm with 80 souls in Palacios. Sunday afternoon Deputy Sheriff E. T. Miller told him, “If anything in Palacios Gross high school for Negroes, 900 people, more Mexicans than Negroes, lay body by body in the halls, sleeping quietly. The members of the white and Negro veterans’ posts who were administering the shelter provided Howard some extra bread, butter, and milk to take back to the First Baptist Church for breakfast. But as soon as dawn broke, the people broke, too, for their homes, if they still had them. Widespread Havoc Describing the debris, it would be easy to overlook the fact that, except for Port O’Connor, most buildings and houses were more or less intact in the towns we saw. But the havoc was widespread. South from Victoria a red barn was crushed as though a fist had smashed its face in. A front porch roof was blown off and a dog sat on it, staring down the road. Telephone poles, splintered or snapped, lay on their sides. Wires lay across the road. Shingle roofs had sprayed into the air. In Port Lavaca, trucks were turned over, part of a cotton gin had collapsed, metal road signs were bent almost flat, a telephone booth lay on its side, large signs were down, back car windshields were broken out. A heavy barge, a ferry boat, and other craft were beached crazily in the street along the waterfront, in company with the top of a house. A fishing boat had pulled in at the bus station. A tug was upended against pilings; another was located in the middle of a field. Houses along the waterfront were badly damaged; the streets were littered with bricks, planks, branches and fronds, wire, glass, barrels, buckets, pilings, a ladder, a dresser, a refrigerator … Seadrift is a little fishing town 25 miles downcoast from Port O’Connor. The waterfront was can ride out the storm, it will be the pavillion. That ‘little old shell means a lot to these people. It’s the one thing most people know is located here. Even the hurricane in ’45 did little damage to it.” “They would find their beloved pavillion,” Wilburn wrote, “lying like a crushed match box just off shore in East ‘Matagorda Bay.” Joe Tanner of Palacios found his home in shambles and learned his prize herd of Brahman cattle had been scattered all over the county. “I sure did hate to leave,” he said. “I loved that home and I spent a lifetime building up that herd. I wonder how they’ll fare?” Dogs and cattle, Wilburn wrote, were “maddened by the storm’s fury and roamed the streets ready to charge any and all.” The town’s police chief found his black-andwhite mongrel pup limping with a broken leg, snarling at his master. He and the mongrel had hunted together for five years. “I sure hope I don’t have to shoot that dog,” Hill slid. Then there was Aunt Carrie, 70 years old. Apparently she had no other name. She has run a tiny clapboard cafe for over 40 years. She refused three times to be evacuated. “I’m not scared. I’ll just sit here in this rocker until it’s all over. When I leave, I’ll be riding a wave,” she said. After the storm hit, a deputy found her in the room in waist deep water. “She told me she hadn’t sat down for more than ten hours,” he said. “But she knew she had been through hell.” wiped away. One resident counted off thirteen buildings that had been blown and washed away an entire waterfront or business section of fishing houses, boat houses, a marine service station. A two-story houseboat worth about $150,000 had disappeared, as had all the other boats on the waterfront. A yellow dish drainer containing one clean, round plate rested in the front yard of a gutted house. But Port O’Connor bore the full fury of the storm. A fence four or five feet high encloses the highway to the town from Seadrift. Against this fence had been washed and blown signs, sides and tops of houses, beds, mattresses, bloated cows, hats, a life jacket, boats, and a whitewashed stairway to a second story. In the outskirts a barge rested among oil tanks. An Air Force sergeant, Bill Young, checked those entering the town. He had a pearl-handled pistol strapped backward high on his hip. He said he had lost $25,000 worth of property in the town himself and guessed the gutting approached 95 percent of everything. Whole city blocks were flattened. The few houses still standing had been blown open and the goods inside scattered multi-colored around the yards and streets. Gone are the theater, motel, dry goods store, boat store, filling station, lumber company, fishing center, boat dock, liquor store. Families stood around on the littered lots where their homes and trailers had been, picking among the battered remnants of their things. Mrs. Sidney Ralph Howsley said she lost everythinghome, goods, papersexcept the towels, sheets, and pillowcases in the bathroom. Said Richard Scott, walking along a street with his boy, “Our house The Fate of Port O’Connor `Ain’t Gonna Be Here for Next One’
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