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Hurricane Celia survivor: 'Nature is powerful'

By Sonny Long
May 29, 2013 at 12:29 a.m.
Updated May 30, 2013 at 12:30 a.m.


Hurricane Celia, which made landfall near Port Aransas, then hit Corpus Christi on Aug. 3, 1970, was the last major hurricane to hit the mid-coast of Texas. At the time, Hurricane Celia was the costliest hurricane to hit the state. Here's some data on the storm:

• Wind speed: 130 mph (gusts at 180 mph) at Port Aransas, 125 mph (gusts at 161 mph) at Corpus Christi

• Deaths: 15

• Injuries: 466

• Damage: 8,950 homes destroyed, 13,850 homes received major damage and 41,800 received minor damage, 252 businesses destroyed, 331 boats lost, 310 farm buildings damaged

• Estimated property and crop damage: $453.8 million

• Tornadoes: Eight generated including in Refugio and DeWitt counties

• Rain: Maximum 7.26 inches at Robstown

SOURCE: National Weather Service


Each year, the San Antonio Spurs have won a National Basketball Association championship, hurricanes have come ashore on the Texas coast. The Spurs won the NBA championship in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007. Hurricane Brett made landfall in 1999 in Kenedy County, south of Baffin Bay. Hurricane Claudette made landfall near Port O'Connor in 2003. Hurricane Rita made landfall near Sabine Pass in 2005, and Hurricane Humberto made landfall near High Island in 2007.

The Spurs are in the 2013 NBA finals starting June 6.

SOURCE: Jason Runyen, National Weather Service

Major Hurricanes - Texas Mid-coast

• 1875: Indianola - Three-fourths of the town was swept away. 270 lives lost.

• 1886: Indianola - Town was a "universal wreck." No house left standing was safe to dwell in. Most people in town permanently left.

• 1941: Matagorda - Thirty-five percent of the cotton crop was lost. Coastal flooding was seen from Corpus Christi northward to the Louisiana shore. Only four lives were lost, mainly due to the evacuation of 25,000 from the threatened area. More than $7 million in damage.

• 1942: Matagorda - Matagorda saw a 14.7-foot tide put the town under about 6 feet of saltwater. Eight died. Damage estimates were near $26.5 million, more than half of which was due to failed crops.

• 1945: Palacios - Tides as high as 15 feet inundated Port Lavaca. The coastline retreated as much as 50 feet due to the storm. Rainfall amounts of 30 inches were common along the coast. Extensive damage was seen in the following counties: Nueces, San Patricio, Aransas, Calhoun, Matagorda and Wharton. Severe crop and livestock losses. Three people were killed. Damage estimates were near $20.1 million.

• 1961: Carla - Among the largest hurricanes of historical record. The storm produced many tornadoes, gusts estimated to 175 mph, torrential rains and a 22-foot storm surge at Port O'Connor. The death toll was limited to 34, which was attributed in part to what was the largest peacetime evacuation of an area in history up until that time. Twenty-six tornadoes were spawned, one of which tore apart 120 buildings and killed six in Galveston.

• 1970: Celia - Caused 15 deaths in South Texas and 466 injuries. Total property and crop damage was estimated at $453.8 million. Costliest storm to hit Texas at that time.

SOURCE: Texas Hurricane History, David Roth, National Weather Service

YORKTOWN - Bea McKinney's life changed on Aug. 3, 1970.

Hunkered down in a closet, McKinney prayed long and hard as she rode out Hurricane Celia in her neighbor's downstairs apartment in Corpus Christi.

"At that point in my life, I was really interested in stuff, collecting nice things," she said. "I realized how quickly you can lose everything."

McKinney was a 25-year-old middle school art teacher getting geared up for the next school year and taking classes toward her master's degree at what was then Texas A&I University when Celia struck.

"I had been in Corpus since 1966," McKinney said. "I grew up in Yorktown, and it was the first time I had ever lived on the coast.

"I didn't really worry about it too much, to be honest. I was in the apartment, busy working on something when I realized the building was wobbling and shaking."

Downstairs neighbors invited McKinney to come to their apartment - she was on the top floor of the two-story structure - where a small group had gathered for a hurricane party.

"As I walked by the other apartments, I noticed a lot of debris blowing," McKinney said. "I decided to get into a protected area, so I went in a closet.

"I remember praying a long time because it was really violent."

After the storm passed, McKinney returned to her apartment.

"We were on the second floor at the end of the building," she said. "A lot of the roofs had blown off the apartment complex, but fortunately, for whatever reason, our roof was still there. It had gotten a lot of water damage, and for the next few weeks, we didn't have power."

McKinney, 68, knows she was lucky.

"No matter where you are, something can happen," she said. "Nature is powerful. No matter how much you might enjoy where you are, it can be gone in a heartbeat."

Next big one?

Hurricane Celia was the last major hurricane - Category 3 or stronger - to hit the mid-coast of Texas.

Is 2013 the year that changes?

That was the question raised during the 2013 Hurricane & Disaster Conference by John Metz, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi.

"You never know when that next major hurricane is going to come rolling through. We must be prepared," Metz said. "It could be this year.

"How often should a major hurricane come around to this area? A study by the National Hurricane Center shows the return for a major hurricane here is 25 to 40 years," Metz continued. "We must be ready. It could come this year."

Metz noted that the Crossroads has a rich history of hurricanes, with seven major hurricanes coming on shore at the mid-coast of Texas.

A total of 22 hurricanes have hit Texas since 1851.

Be prepared

The length of time between major hurricanes could present problems from the public perspective, Metz explained.

"Apathy, forgetfulness - maybe you are new to the area and don't realize what a storm can do," he said. "They can be life-changing events. You must take hurricanes and preparedness seriously."

The category of a storm does not tell the full story, he said. "There are many other hazards and parameters of a hurricane that we must understand. It's not just the wind speed. It's storm surge. It's the size of the storm," Metz said.

When a hurricane watch is issued, you have 48 hours until the wind starts to blow. When a warning is issued, you're down to 36 hours, Metz said.

Metz said that although hurricane forecasting has improved, it continues to be an inexact science.

He added one of the most difficult things to forecast is intensity - how strong is that storm going to be?

"Improvements are being made, but we've got a long way to go before a perfect forecast. I doubt we ever will."

Metz said 2012 was one of the busiest hurricane seasons on record with 19 storms, and 2013 looks to be much the same with 13 to 20 named storms expected.

Of those storms, seven to 11 could become hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes - well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

"We're in a busy cycle," he said. "For more than 15 years, water temperature in the Atlantic has been above normal, generating a lot of storms.

"It only takes one big storm rolling through the Crossroads to make a major season for us."



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