|“Oh! Sweet south
wind! Oh! Wind Hygeian!
“Oh! Wind of spiced and honeyed breath!
“Up from the brooding depths of the Caribbean!
“You brought the hurricane of death!”
- From a poem by Myra Peterson Brooks (1886-1973)
moving to Port
Aransas following World
War I, Myra and George Brooks had been living the good life.
They had a two-story bungalow with a wide veranda looking out on the
bay, with the beaches of Mustang Island only a short distance away.
When George wasn’t at work at the shipyard, the couple spent time
in their boat fishing in the bay and Gulf, or riding horseback next
to the breakers.
“There was a small inn [the Tarpon Inn] where people came from every
part of the United States…to go tarpon fishing, and the cottages and
bungalows were always full of music and laughter,” Myra later wrote.
“Everyone always seemed happy and busy.”
|Tarpon Inn in
Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
But during the second week of September 1919, Myra began to feel uncomfortable.
“I knew something awful was about to happen and I felt so hopeless,”
she wrote. “For days I watched the sky and water and at night I could
not sleep. Why couldn’t people know? The ants did…they all disappeared….The
gulls knew. They flew around crying and frightened. The fish seemed
to know and all went out into deep water, and the horses and cattle
came in off the range to be near us.”
Myra told her husband that they should leave Port
Aransas and stay on the mainland with friends for a while, but
he would not leave the shipyard. And Myra would not leave him.
On September 13, the tide ran unusually high and both the bay and
the Gulf had grown rough. The wind began to pick up.
“We had plenty of time to go even then,” she remembered, “but when
night came it was too rough to go out in our little boat. When the
hurricane signals went up, it was too late.”
The wind howled all night, only growing stronger. By dawn on the 14th,
even though their house stood on six-foot piers, waves washed inside,
covering the floor. Ships in the harbor had been blown ashore and
the wharves and fish houses had disappeared.
“We seemed to be alone in a roaring world of water and wind, and there
was nothing we could do about it,” she remembered.
With the storm still raging, Myra lit a candle so she could see to
carry some of her family’s possessions into the attic. As it turned
out, the candle saved the couple’s lives, along with her sister and
sister-in-law. A Coast Guardsman saw the flickering flame and realized
their house remained occupied.
“He said we must leave at once for the sand hills (dunes),” she wrote.
In 120-mile-an-hour wind with higher gusts, the guardsman led them
to higher ground. At times, they had to swim. All the while, parts
of roofs and large pieces of lumber flew past them and nails and cactus
thorns tore their skin. Several times, Myra sank under the fast-moving
water, exhausted. Each time, her husband pulled her up and said they
had to keep going.
Finally, they made it to the high dunes, but the water continued to
rise, reaching within four feet of the couple and others who had taken
refuge there before the wind turned and the Gulf began receding. At
one point, the wind ripped a baby from its mother’s arms.
“I can’t describe the awfulness of that day and the ones to follow,”
Myra wrote. “It was beyond everything I had ever thought or dreamed
Myra and George, along with everyone else who lived on Mustang Island,
had lost everything – and many were dead.
1919 storm (the government did not begin naming tropical cyclones
until 1953) killed 287 people. A 16-foot storm surge heavily damaged
Christi and virtually destroyed Port
Aransas. A long-standing myth that Corpus
Christi stood immune from hurricanes had been violently destroyed.
The Brooks family and other marooned on the sand dunes remained stranded
until September 15, when the Coast Guard took the Port
Aransas survivors across the bay to Aransas
Pass. That town had also sustained heavy damage, including the
loss of its business district. Friends whose home still stood took
the badly battered couple in for several days until the military and
Red Cross arrived.
“We were all running a temperature and needed medical attention,”
Myra remembered. “Our bodies were washed with gasoline to cut the
oil and sand, and there was no fresh water in town…and very little
food as the stores had been…in the lower part of town.”
Myra wanted to be on the first refugee train out of town, but George
had to stay and oversee salvage work at the shipyard. The couple remained
in the area until June 1920, when George resigned and they returned
to the Northeast.
In the early 1930s, Myra penned her recollections of the storm, along
with a poem she called “The Hurricane of Death.” But her account and
other written memories did not see print until 2012 when her half-niece
published her works in book form.
The term post-traumatic stress disorder had not yet entered the vernacular,
but as she wrote, “My head has never been clear since [the storm].
…I can always hear the wind blowing or seem to…feel it.”
© Mike Cox
- June 24, 2015 Column
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