Most of the world remembers

Sept. 8, 2011 at 4:08 a.m.

Most of the world remembers Sept. 11 as the date 10 years ago of a cowardly terrorist attack on New York and Washington, D.C., when thousands of innocent people were killed. The television images are seared into my memory forever.

But I, and many others from the Texas coast to Michigan, remember Sept. 11 as the date 50 years ago when Hurricane Carla made landfall at Port O'Connor, virtually leveling the thriving fishing and recreation community.

At the time, I was news director at the oldest radio station in Victoria - KVIC-AM - with transmitter and studios in an old frame two-story building in the 3600 block of North Main Street. The building has since been replaced, but the self-supporting tower, erected in 1939, still stands, but with a brace on one of its four legs, where Carla tried to bring it down on top of those trying to broadcast news and vital information to the area.

Many details of those several days and nights before and after Carla struck are hazy in my memory, primarily because I was so busy. But I do remember that Jimmy Traber and Jerry Petty were feeding frequent reports from the Weather Bureau at Foster Field. Fred Jones spent most of his time on the telephone, taking information and giving reports to radio and TV stations literally around the world. Bob Lamey had just come in town from college and was quickly put to work manning the on-air control board. Bill Flemion also worked the board. I know there were other people working, including a couple of TV reporters from Dallas, who rode out the storm in the old building that we all thought would collapse at any moment.

When it became evident we were going to be the target of Carla, I made sure my family was safe. My wife, Olga, and I had a son, Frank, who was born Aug. 5. They and my mother sought shelter with friends who we felt had a stable home. I took my canine companion, a boxer named Diablo, to the radio station.

Despite all the excitement and drama leading up to Carla's landfall, and the turmoil during the storm, and fatigue in its aftermath, there are really only two things I can vividly remember, both involving dogs.

Diablo was well-trained, and a gentleman. Despite all the hustle and bustle going on around him, he stayed out of the way, sitting or laying where he wouldn't get stepped on.

But after being cooped up inside the building for about 10 hours, he felt the natural need to relieve himself. I was going out the front door about every hour to check the rain gauge, which I later realized was a dumb thing to do. But Diablo was watching for his chance and ran out the door as I was going out. He stopped at the first shrub he came to and lifted his leg. But the wind caught him and blew him over. He got up, made his way to another bush, and lifted his leg again - and was blown over again. He saw me heading back to the door, and stopped again at the first bush. Same result. Thrice tried, thrice denied. So he came back into the house and went to a far corner of the room - and sat. If he could have crossed his legs, he would have. But there he sat for several more hours.

Diablo was finally able to relieve himself after Carla had moved inland, and I was ready to drive toward Port Lavaca to record a report. I was driving a compact station wagon with a tape recorder beside me, editing a report as I drove, dodging debris, boats, power lines and dead animals.

A month earlier, Diablo had been with me when I reported on the opening of the new causeway to Point Comfort. When we reached the new concrete and steel causeway, I saw one huge slab torn loose by the force of the storm. Plans to make the old wooden causeway the longest fishing pier in Texas were foiled because only a few poles from the old causeway were still standing.

Diablo was standing on the back seat of the wagon, with his head near my shoulder, so I could clearly hear him panting. After putting on tape the grotesque aftermath of Carla, I turned on the road to Olivia, where three people were later confirmed dead.

Then, I noticed about 50 yards off the road, where the water was high enough to cover the fence posts, what appeared to be a door about 8 feet long, floating. And on that plank was a little brown dog, his hair matted with mud. He could see me looking at him ... and I could see him looking at me. And we both knew there was absolutely nothing I could do to help him.

So I said a prayer for him, turned the car around, and headed back to the radio station. And I put the report on the air.

It was my job.

Bob Nance, longtime radioman, is retired and lives in Victoria.



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