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Advocate editorial board opinion: Carla taught us a good lesson: Evacuate when warned

By By the Advocate Editorial Board
Sept. 8, 2011 at 4:08 a.m.


Texas has had its share of catastrophies over the years. One of the most severe was Hurricane Carla in 1961 - 50 years ago on Sunday.

True that many of us have no memory of this "monstrous storm," as it was called by some veteran newsmen who observed that it covered most of the Gulf of Mexico after it crossed the Yucatan Peninsula. But we can appreciate knowing that it was much like a Ike that ravaged Galveston or a Katrina that scathed the Ninth Ward and displaced just about everybody in New Orleans. We have heard and seen these kinds of storms, so we have an inkling what they're like.

Carla has been labeled the second most intense storm to hit the Texas coast. The hurricane was a Category 5 in the Gulf and struck between Port Lavaca and Port O'Connor as a Category 4 storm.

Although the strength of the storm was so great, only 43 people died because of it, mainly because people were notified in time and took the storm seriously. About 500,000 people evacuated all along the Texas Coast - you could say the storm hit the entire coast because of its size. Damages were estimated to be more than $2 billion in today's dollars.

Our Advocate staff was on the job at the time. Advocate reporters Tom Fite, Pat Witte, Vince Reedy and publisher Morris Roberts were out journaling the goings-on.

Carla also launched the broadcast career of Dan Rather, a Wharton native, who was sent to Galveston as a bureau reporter for Houston's Channel 11 KHOU. So Rather and the Weather Bureau set up shop on the fifth floor of the Post Office, using mobile transmitting equipment.

Rather and crew were the first broadcasters to show a hurricane in action to TV audiences. On the evening on Sept. 9, 1961, a camera was set up in front of the Weather Bureau's radar.

"That night we picked up the picture for the first time, 250 miles from the coast, and carried it on the air," Rather wrote in his book, "The Camera Never Blinks; Adventures of a TV Journalist,"

"We were able to say, in effect, 'There it is folks, never before seen on television, live, an actual hurricane.'"

Rather continued reporting around the clock for 30 hours before signal was lost because of Carla's onslaught. After that, he was stranded on the fifth floor of the Post Office, where flood waters reached the second floor.

Many remember Rather's reporting out in the storm, holding on to a pole, speaking in the microphone and capturing the drama of the moment. Carla lifted Rather into the limelight in a sense. Because of his reporting on the storm, he later was hired to take Walter Cronkite's place as CBS anchor.

Nowadays, it's pretty normal to see a reporter holding on to a pole and reporting out in a storm.

We could tell thousands of stories from that time when Carla came barreling down on us. Not all of them had good endings, such as Rather's. One good lesson Carla taught us, however, is evacuate when such systems threaten our part of the Gulf Coast. It could save your life.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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