Remembering Camille

Editor’s note: This issue of BNews launches a new monthly column on Biloxi history, written by the manager of the Local History and Genealogy section of the Biloxi Public Library.

By Jane Shambra

Hurricanes are nothing new to the Gulf Coast.  Before the days of high technology, we can find documented evidence of monstrous visits from the sea and air.  Mayan mythology mentions Huraken the god of storms. Journals from early explorers record hand-written accounts of devastation caused by catastrophic weather events. The great hurricane of 1722 caused such destruction of the Coast that some early settlers fled to New Orleans and Mobile to re-establish their lives. That hurricane was indeed a major deciding factor in the move of the planned capital of Louisiana from Biloxi to New Orleans. 

Hurricanes did not always have names, as we know them today. Storms were once named by year.  Then, in 1954, with the confusion of identifying so many storms, the United States began naming storms using female names.  In 1978 both male and female names were listed. Once all the listed hurricane names are used for a season, the Greek alphabet comes into play, which occurred during the year of Katrina.

This July marks the 49th anniversary of Hurricane Camille‚Äôs unwelcomed visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  With radio and TV warnings in place, Camille attacked land on Aug. 17, 1969 with its relentless force of winds recorded at nearly 200 mph. Iconic Biloxi structures, such as seafood factories, Victorian homes along U.S. 90, and popular tourist attractions crumbled with Camille‚Äôs mighty force. Evidence of the height of Hurricane Camille‚Äôs storm surge can be found in several locations today:  inside the Biloxi Lighthouse, on a pole to the west of the Biloxi Visitors Center, in Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant, and on the steps of the city‚Äôs Glen Swetman house.  On U.S. 90, where the Church of the Redeemer once stood, now stands the Hurricane Camille Memorial, which bears the inscriptions of 172 casualties who perished during that storm.

One little-known publication resulting from Hurricane Camille‚Äôs visit to the Gulf Coast was published in 1970.  It is a federal document printed at the end of an investigative hearing at Biloxi‚Äôs Broadwater Beach Hotel on Jan. 7, 1970:  “A Federal Response to Hurricane Camille.” This 2,568-page report is a detailed account of the U.S. Senate‚Äôs Special Subcommittee on Disaster Relief.  The voluminous fact-filled official government document can be found at the Local History and Genealogy Department at the Biloxi Public Library in microfiche format.

During the month of August, the Local History and Genealogy Department of the Biloxi Public Library will feature displays commemorating the 49th anniversary of Camille’s historic visit to the Gulf Coast.

‚ąô The Local History and Genealogy Department of the Biloxi Public Library, part of the Harrison County Library System, is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Details:  biloxi.ms.us or 228-435-4613