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Hurricane Carla forever altered Port O'Connor's landscape

By BY J.R. ORTEGA - JRORTEGA@VICAD.COM
Sept. 10, 2011 at 4:10 a.m.

The aftermath of Hurricane Carla is shown in this aerial picture by T.W. LaQuay in Port Lavaca from the collection of King Fisher. The view is of the Intracoastal Waterway in Port O'Connor.

PORT O'CONNOR - A surge of saltwater ate away at the Port O'Connor shoreline.

Almost every other home and business was devoured by Hurricane Carla's Category 4 flattening winds and torrential rains. The storm left debris scattered across the land.

Most of the residents who braved the storm in September 1961 have since left; others have died.

The coastal city turned ghost town on Sept. 11, but soon recovered.

Learning first-hand what Port O'Connor lost is hard to come by almost 50 years after the storm's trail of destruction.

"The bay and the lake met," said George Anne Cormier, Calhoun County Museum director. "It's totally devastating."

HOW IT HAS CHANGED

An entire theater was washed away, leaving behind only a set of chairs staring at nothing but barren, torn land.

The images and articles in the Advocate's and museum's archives tell a story no one else left can really tell, Cormier said.

Homes, gone; the post office gone, but its contents in a safe were saved.

"It took almost everything," Cormier said.

Of course, Port O'Connor has completely rebuilt and grown since the infamous storm, but the landscape will be warped forever because of the storm's power, said James Gibeaut, chairman of the Coastal and Marine Geospatial Sciences with the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

"It was really the benchmark storm," he said.

THE CHANGED LANDSCAPE

Hurricane Carla may have occurred 50 years ago, but its impact on the landscape were immediate and can still be seen.

Gibeaut and his team look at how hurricanes shape the Texas Coast.

For Carla, however, the team focused on the upper Texas coast. Much of what was seen around the Rollover Pass and the rest of the Galveston area is also true of the Calhoun County area, he said.

"We see acceleration of shoreline retreat, or beach erosion," he said.

Some immediate changes along the coast where Carla made landfall include anywhere from 150 to 200 feet of receded shoreline.

This effect is long-lasting because now the erosion has been sped up.

The barrier islands that protect the main Texas shoreline were washed over and when the water receded, the islands shrunk.

The storm's surge was about 22 feet.

Nothing was left untouched.

Hurricanes for Calhoun County coast pose a huge threat, Cormier said.

Hurricanes in the 1800s made once booming towns, like Indianola, small.

Though Port O'Connor has recovered well from the storms it has fared in the past, there will always be the next big one.

"When you get that kind of wind and water, you can't fight it," Cormier said.

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