Community of Readers forum focuses on destruction of historic storms

Linda Wolff

When Henry Wolff Jr. first moved to Victoria in the 1960s as a young reporter, he couldn't wait to experience his first hurricane.

"The reason I was looking forward to my first hurricane was because I kept hearing about hurricane parties. Every time there was a threat of one, I stocked up on supplies to get me through it. But I never needed it," Wolff, who moved to the area from West Texas, said. "Then came Hurricane Claudette in 2003. It had the usual damage of a small hurricane. The winds were only about 85 miles per hour. And so it is with a bit of embarrassment that I can now finally lay claim to being a hurricane survivor."

On Thursday, Wolff and his wife, Linda, who were longtime reporters for the Victoria Advocate, shared stories like these and others of Coastal Bend storms and devastation as part of the Community of Readers forum at the University of Houston-Victoria.

Linda Wolff is also the author of "Indianola and Matagorda Island, 1837 to 1887," a local history guide to the area, and spoke about the major storms that brought the once thriving port of Indianola to the brink of destruction.

It was in 1875 that the first killer storm hit Indianola. On that day, a big murder trial was going on, and the streets were full of people when the storm rolled in with full force, she said.

"In a panic, many people went to the courthouse. By mid-day, the walls were being torn apart," she added. "As night fell, rescues became impossible. Screams of victims could be heard."

After the storm, many residents moved inland, but some stayed behind. There were also storms in 1877, 1879, 1880 and 1881, which mainly just did some property damage, she said. In 1886, however, a hurricane came through that destroyed buildings that had withstood the 1875 hurricane and knocked other buildings completely off their foundations.

In more recent times, Hurricane Carla in 1961 was among the most notable for the area, causing $10 million in damages in Victoria and resulting in dozens of deaths, Henry Wolff said. There were also big storms in 1919, 1942, 1945 and 1967.