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Readers remember Hurricane Carla, Part 2

Sept. 9, 2011 at 4:09 a.m.

A cooling tower damaged during Hurricane Carla.

Editor's note: We asked our readers to share their Hurricane Carla memories. We heard from many people. Today is the second of three days of memories. For more, go online to www.victoriaadvocate.com and click on this link or read Friday's and Sunday's Advocate.

Honeymoon with in-laws

Little did we know what lay ahead when we exchanged wedding vows in the presence of our pastor and some family members at First Baptist Church in Bay City that Sept. 8, 1961. My big brother took moving pictures inside the church with Dad's newest toy, and Grandpa Sears took our photo outside the church with his faithful Brownie camera. We headed to College Station where John was to start classes on an athletic scholarship.

We awoke the next morning to news that Hurricane Carla was heading to the Texas coast. We headed back to Bay City, as we were in John's parents' car, stopping in Bellville to eat at a small restaurant owned by two little Bohemian ladies. We placed our order and were asked our destination. When we responded we were going toward the coast, the ladies told us with some excitement that we were headed the wrong way. Didn't we know there was a storm coming?

John and I arrived in Bay City and delivered the car to his parents who were heading to Sweeny to stay with John's aunt and uncle. Since my family was staying in their new home on Andrea Drive, one of the highest places in Bay City, we determined to stay there. We stayed in what had been my bedroom at the front of the house, moved the bed as far away from the two windows as possible, helped my folks gather supplies and bring my grandmother from her little apartment to ride out the storm. With a Coleman camp stove, ice chests, battery powered radio and a full pantry, we were ready to ride out the storm.

John and I retired to our room late after watching news reports of the storm, which was to make landfall that night. We were awakened during the night by my mother, grandmother and little sister invading our room to put towels in the south window to catch the rain that was being forced around the frame by the powerful wind. Needless to say, we didn't return to our peaceful sleep, but joined the others to watch the storm as long as we had television coverage. The wind was furious and loud with gusts more than 100 mph.

We remained in the safety of the house until the eye of the storm came over the area. Then, against the pleadings of my mother, myself and my grandmother, my new husband, my dad and my two brothers headed out with movie camera to check out John's parents home and their dog. We were on pins and needles worrying they would get caught by the backside of the storm before they could make it safely back at home. They did come back in time with stories of cars flooded out in ditches, water over many roads, and power lines and poles down. The McMillans' home was in good shape; however, the dog, an extra large Doberman Pincher, bounded out the door of the screen porch and took off across the neighbor's yard. They could not find her and had to return home without knowing her whereabouts.

As the backside of the storm hit, we once again gathered in the house which was still high and dry, the water only coming within three feet of the house. The street looked like a swiftly moving river as the rain continued to pour down. We had lost electric power early on and had to rely on hurricane lamps and our camp stove. I remember my mother using duct tape to secure the freezer and refrigerator doors to keep them shut to maintain the temperature as much as possible.

After the storm, the power was restored, and we waited until the water subsided to get out and see the damage. Some of our friends had roofs blown off their homes and water damage. Others were unscathed.

John had to report back to Texas A&M for football practice and orientation, so his mother, triplet brothers and I struck off finding floorboard deep water as we headed out the back way down Skelly Road to the highway. I just knew we would flood out and be stranded, but the faithful Ford pushed right on through, leaving us with wet feet, but safely on our way.

Not many men can say they spent their honeymoon with their in-laws, had them invade their bedroom on the second night of wedded bliss, and are still married - celebrating 50 years Sept. 8 of this year. As I reminisce about Hurricane Carla, I also must give my husband, John McMillan, the respect and credit he deserves for getting off to a somewhat rocky start and staying committed to the relationship all these years, being the best husband, father and grandfather one could desire. Our hurricane honeymoon experience did not dampen our relationship at all, but melded our bond forever.

Mary Jane Keller McMillan, Bay City

Whimps and a ghost town

What memories for a Calhoun High School freshman.

Port Lavaca was a ghost town as Carla approached; 9,200 of 10,000 residents evacuated. We kept hearing the coordinates: 28 degrees north latitude/96 degrees west longitude, heading for Port O'Connor, on the Texas coast, barometric pressure falling, winds exceeding 150 mph. Not too good.

Out hunting more supplies, we bought the last loaf of bread in town at Cole's Corner. I remember lying in the back seat of our '49 Chevy so I could not see the scariness of an empty town, or was it the emptiness of a scary town? Wimps evacuated. Mom gave me a piece of a Valium to calm me down. I, too, was a wimp.

Authorities said we could not ride out the storm at home. We were evacuated to Bauer Dredging at the corner of Main and Commerce streets. Would we be safer there? A huge barge broke loose during the storm, just behind the building. All that kept us from being crushed was a shell pile and the Lord himself.

During the eye, the uneasy calm was indescribable - birds flying, sun shining - a normal day, only for a moment. Carla returned with even more vengeance. The wind gauge broke at 175 mph.

Going home, water stood everywhere. Our Bay Street address was fitting as the bay dumped 4 to 6 feet of water into our home. Mom saw the mess and fainted. I should have reciprocated her with a Valium. All that work raising furniture to avoid rising water did little good. My new school clothes had to be washed again and again. Dad had to drill holes in the floor to wash out the water and mud. The stench of the silt from the bay, inside our house, I'll never forget.

In the days that followed, I remember lining up for water and shots. Houston's local KHOU news reporter, Dan Rather, was propelled to anchor the national CBS News.

Port O'Connor was leveled. There was no FEMA to confuse us. The Red Cross was there to help, and the Lord helped us as we helped each other.

Carla 1961 - what a memory.

Darlene Hengst Marshall, Port Lavaca

Feeding the shelters

Early on Sunday morning, all the family met at my parent's grocery store to pick up items needed for the trip to San Antonio. Members of the law enforcement showed up and asked whether someone could stay so they would have access to food for the people they were caring for in the different shelters. I was elected, along with a cousin. Because the wind wasn't too bad yet, my cousin and I decided to take a drive to the bayfront that was at the end of Main Street, and who did we see there but Dan Rather, who at the time was a reporter for a Houston TV station. We got a big kick out of the fact he was leaning into what little wind there was to make a big show that he was in the big middle of Carla. Where he was standing was at least under 18 feet of water at the height of the storm.

The heroes were the people who were taking provisions to the different shelters throughout the storm. Since power was lost early on, they knew that all the ice cream was going to be lost, so they even took that to give the people in the shelters a little treat. We cut up some of the best cuts of meat for stew for them. They kept coming back for milk, baby formula and snacks. You can bet that people in the shelters didn't go hungry.

The A/C cooling tower fell and punched a hole in the roof and flooded the back storeroom. The radio news reports were at least 30 minutes behind, and we kept saying that if the wind gets any stronger, this building will not stay standing, so we made plans to move to one of the interior walk-in coolers when the time came and hope for the best. But not long after that, the eye came over, and you could see the sky and birds of all kinds; it lasted about an hour. Again, we rode around during the eye and saw many people who were just as glad to see us as we were them. As we drove around, we noticed that there were stores that had no windows, and if someone wanted to, they could walk right through them. As far as I know, there was no looting. If I remember correctly, the barometric pressure was around 27.8 inches.

There are other memories, but that would take pages.

Robert (Bobby) Vela, Nordheim

Difficult to breathe

Exactly one month before my 13th birthday, Carla blew through Palacios with a fury no one expected. Fifty years later, memories are crystal clear. My mom's parents rode out Carla with us because their home was an old wood-frame on blocks and ours was brick in Foley Addition just one block off Tres Palacios Bay.

As the storm heightened, my mom wanted to leave, but it was far too late. The water came into our utility room, but stopped just short of coming into the house proper. My dad scooped the water out the back door with a trash can as fast as he could, hoping mom wouldn't see. We later learned that the water was 10 feet deep at state Highway 35.

The pressure got so low in the midst of the fury that it became difficult to breathe. Grandpa, who suffered with emphysema, scared us all with his labored breathing. Standing next to a slightly open window, I could feel the breath being drawn out of my lungs. Rain was sucked in around the window panes and doors. I had blisters on my hands from wringing out the towels and pillowcases we used to stop the water.

I saw our neighbor's garage door sucked inward like a piece of tissue paper and then whipped away like a tumble weed. What looked like bullets hitting the street next to our house turned out to be bits of shingle off our own roof.

Terrified, I heard the radio report that Palacios was completely evacuated. There were six of us in the house, and I knew my dad's parents were at home two miles away. No one knew we were there.

Several tornadoes, like freight trains, passed just two blocks away, destroying all in their paths. My dad went out when the storm subsided and brought home a man who had spent the night in a tree after his house blew away. Another neighbor and his dog had spent the night floating on the freezer in his garage.

Cows that had been pastured on the peninsula across the bay were washed into town. Those that did not drown were crazed with fear, attacking everything, and had to be shot. The devastation was beyond belief for this almost 13-year-old girl.

In the aftermath and cleanup, everyone had to get cholera immunizations. A station was set up at the Presbyterian Church, where I volunteered to help, distributing cotton balls and alcohol for the injections and directing people who came for their free shots.

Afterwards, there were as many stories as people. I give thanks for every season that we avoid a monster like "Carla." Don't ever underestimate Mother Nature.

Barbara Harvey Henry, Palacios

Rescued by boat

The memories of Hurricane Carla are still there. I was only 5 years old when Carla hit. I was living in Freeport, at 719 W. 9th St., where I was born and raised with my family and four other children. It was a big loss. My family lost everything and had 18 inches of water in the house. We were taken out by boats. We had insurance and the house was repaired, and we moved back in. I had lots of Barbies and lost them all. My father has recently sold the house.

Debra Corsentino Hurst, Victoria

Mourning PoPo

Windy, blistering evenings and the sound of rustling leaves bring back so many emotions and memories of long ago. I was 11 that September 1961. Everyone was nervously awaiting the arrival of the hurricane. I couldn't have cared less about the storm that was quickly approaching. I was so excited about my PoPo coming home.

I hadn't fully accepted the reality of my beloved grandfather Candido Artero's death. He was being transported home to our family business, Artero Memorial Chapels, to be in state because he had died of a massive heart attack in San Antonio.

His body finally arrived that stormy night. Preparations continued for the notorious Carla and began for my PoPo.

Family members and friends appeared from everywhere. We all mourned for him while we listened to the winds wailing outside. I remember so vividly the eeriness of the candlelight flickering in the chapel where my grandfather lay. He was so quiet and so still, not the crazy, joyful PoPo who loved to sing and dance. I finally realized that my PoPo was dead.

My cousins tried to console me and include me in their activities, but they could not feel my sorrow nor my pain, for I had lost the most important person in my life. I was his precious princess, and life would never be the same for me again. Nor would it be for the thousands of people who suffered from the destruction of Hurricane Carla.

Dolores Artero Rosas, Victoria

'God was with us'

Our family of 10 stayed in Port O'Connor during Carla; My father and mother-in-law, me, their two young children and my husband, Melborn, our three children, ages 1, 2 and 3 and grandmother. My husband's parents had just finished building their beach home and felt the need to stay and protect their home and ranch. We were all cattle ranchers. During the eye of the storm, my husband went into the nearby pasture and cut the fences so the cattle could escape. He saw the tidal wave coming. A huge wall about 12 feet tall. We headed for the attic. God was with us all.

Joyce Shillings, Port Lavaca

A Carla education

The weekend previous to Hurricane Carla, my dad, Virgil Minear, had to have an appendectomy. That left it to my mother and myself to get out the issues of the New Era Herald for that week. Following the press run on Thursday, I returned to San Marcos where I would enroll for the fall semester the next week. After I arrived in San Marcos, friends and I left on a planned long weekend to North Texas, vaguely aware that there was a tropical disturbance in the Gulf.

On my return, I called home to let my parents know everything had gone well. To my surprise, I was ordered home immediately. Because of an impending hurricane and because Daddy was still recovering from his surgery, my help was once again needed. So, after having just traveled several hundred miles in the rain, I was once again on the road. I was the only car traveling south. Everyone else was headed north pulling boats and trailers.

The next day, Monday, we put out an issue of the paper and secured the printing office. I don't think that we did much. The front of the building didn't have the large plate glass windows then, and I don't think that we ever bothered to tape the small windows that were there. After making sure everything at home was put away, we returned to town where we took shelter in the H.G. Timm feed store across the street with members of the Timm family.

The Timm building stood on the corner of Main and Fifth streets facing east and had large show windows. These had been boarded up for the storm. I don't remember how many of us were there, but it was a good-sized group as the Timm family was large. There was food and drink on hand and Coleman lanterns in case the electricity went out. I can't remember if we ever lost electricity or not. When the eye of the storm was over us, several of us went out to check for damage. At our building, there was a sign hanging below the awning that we had forgotten. I took it down and put it in our place. I still have that sign. What I remember best is after the storm's eye had passed and the winds had reversed. The reason this stayed with me is because there was a warehouse attached to the back of Timm's facing south, and the reversed wind was threatening to take the porch roof off of the warehouse. Gene Timm and several other men took large, thick ropes and went out into the storm and lashed the roof down.

I have no idea how long the storm lasted. After the roof incident, I got up on some sacks of feed that were stacked in the southeast corner of the building next to the boarded-up windows and went to sleep. The next thing I knew, I was being awakened to go home because the worst of the storm was over. We came up Glendale as far as Hardy Street and then detoured because of a large Hackberry tree from Celia Mertz's yard had fallen across the street, taking the utility lines with it.

Our house had sustained no damage, with the possible exception of a few shingles. We could have ridden out the storm in the comfort of our own beds instead of atop sacks of feed.

By the end of the week, I was back in San Marcos and enrolled for my senior year.

Don Minear, Hallettsville

Bumper-to-bumper

Living in Pasadena where the streets easily filled with water, we left for Hallettsville to stay at my mother's home. Alternate 90 had bumper-to-bumper traffic, with people fleeing the coast.

Reaching our destination, we settled in and waited for the storm, and what a storm it was.

Making landfall in Port O'Connor, the edge of the eye came over Hallettsville. The strong wind tore loose shingles from the house that narrowly missed our windows. Electrical wires were torn and dancing in the streets, sparks flying.

Suddenly, all was calm and quiet, then again the eerie winds started up. I will always remember Carla

Ann Svab, Hallettsville

A Rocky beginning

Hurricane Carla came ashore on Sept. 11, 1961. The heavy rain and high wind blew hard. The mother was in hard labor with their first born and the father was asked to help move patients to a safer place in the El Campo Hospital. The roof was coming apart in certain sections. A beautiful son was born named Alfred Roy (Rocky) Tompkins. He has made his four parents very proud.

Mary Nell and C.J. Tomas; Evelyn and Alfred Tompkins Sr., Inez

Serving his country

I was 3 in September 1961. Dad was in the military with orders for Korea. Mom had her hands full with me, brother Mike and a baby on the way. Dale was born Sept. 10 as Carla pounded the Gulf Coast. Dad left for Korea on Sept. 12.

Debris pelted the windows and rain blew sideways. When the eye passed over, Granny took me outside. The sun was shining, the wind had calmed. It was completely silent. Water covered everything. We rescued a baby bird.

I was only a toddler, but I learned about hurricanes. I remember well Carla's fury.

Marcy Stehling, Victoria

Lineman protection

I was lineman helper at the time when Carla hit. In later years, I became a lineman. On the Sunday before Carla hit, all linemen went to Point Comfort to stand by to restore power; we went out two times that evening. We were put in the school cafeteria with people who stayed in Point Comfort. It was in the afternoon when it hit. It broke a big window in the kitchen, so I ran and got under a small table that was about 10 feet from us and the lineman was right beside me. Nobody got hurt, but the lineman, Dudley Pegal, was hit with a small piece of the door. We all were moved to a classroom to wait for the back of the eye. We worked many long days restoring the power. I am 81 years old now.

Jess Monroe, Victoria

42 nervous hours

I was employed as an operator at a large chemical plant near Seadrift. I went to work on my regular scheduled shift on the Saturday day shift. The plant was essentially shut down because of Carla in the Gulf.

I was asked to stay as part of a short crew. My wife and three young daughters had an opportunity to go to relatives in Austin.

I spend 42 anxious, terrifying at times, nervous hours there in the strong control room. We had cots, food, water and other necessities through this long lasting high wind and rain. We had about 30 minutes of eye (of the storm) on Sunday afternoon.

I, and some others were released about 2 a.m. Monday. A friend took me home. Our 1-year-old home in northwest Victoria was OK, only roof damage.

Debris on state Highway 185 was terrific, only a few lights were on.

I set an alarm clock so I could go back to work at 8 a.m., but I woke about 10 a.m. The alarm clock did not wake me.

I will not leave Victoria for another hurricane.

William Weiss, Victoria

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