was her name. She was ferocious, deadly and destructive; a Category
5 hurricane at one time, with 175 MPH winds. She slowly came ashore
September 11, 1961, at Port
O'Conner along the middle Texas
Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm, with a 22-foot storm surge.
In some places that surge reached 10 miles inland and wind damage
was reported as far north as Dallas.
Carla was one of the strongest storms ever to strike the USA and remains
the most powerful ever to hit the Texas
coast. At one time the storm engulfed the entire Gulf of Mexico.
Carla's devastation killed 46 people, 31 of them in Texas
and did an estimated $2.4 billion in damage.
Towns like Freeport,
Jackson and Angleton
in Brazoria County
were caught by the most dangerous, heavy hitting, upper right quadrant
of the storm. Galveston
was also severely damaged by the storm surge, plus an F4 tornado ripped
through their downtown area. A great amount of Carla's extensive damage
was done well away from the landfall site. She spawned one of the
largest hurricane-related tornado outbreaks in recorded weather history.
Damage was reported as far east as the Mississippi Delta and as the
storm weakened, it dropped heavy rain across the Midwest.
I was there, but I wish I hadn't been! For me, it was the beginning
of the turbulent 1960's. I worked for ten days in the Brazosport area
of Brazoria and
I wasn't very far east of where the eye of the storm made landfall
and I saw first hand the unthinkable destruction of tidal waves and
storm surge. Throughout all my years as a highway patrolman investigating
many fatal car crashes and disasters; fighting crime, vice and immorality,
this storm was the most harrowing, long lasting and unpleasant experience
I have ever lived through. In writing this account, I am recalling
just a few of the many eyewitness encounters I had while working in
the area prior to, during and immediately after Carla's arrival. This
writing brings back many bad memories, perhaps being the reason I
have waited so long to write about all the catastrophic events.
the early 1960's, my regular job assignment as a Texas highway patrolman
was at Crosby in east Harris
County. On the afternoon of Sept. 8, 1961, our DPS area supervisor
had a surprise for my patrol partner and me. "You guys are part of
the Hurricane Carla welcoming committee. Take your state patrol car
and report for duty early tomorrow morning at the Brazoria
County Courthouse in Angleton.
Another supervisor will be there. Report to him. I don't know how
long you will work there, but stay until relieved of duty." (Humm!
Sounded as though I was going to miss my son's first birthday party!)
We were told that a great number of DPS patrolmen from the Houston
area and across south Texas were being sent to Brazoria
and surrounding counties in advance of the approaching storm.
A mass, orderly and supervised evacuation of more than a half million
coastal residents was to begin the next day.
Our first and primary assignments were to help evacuate all the area
residents, quickly and safely, while directing the heavy flow of traffic
northward to higher ground. Gridlock became common along the primary
evacuation routes. In addition to managing the tremendous increase
of highway traffic, came the job of investigating numerous automobile
accidents. It always happens during these chaotic times of panic and
heavy traffic congestion. (But we could handle that too!) Plus, our
constant vigil was to detect and apprehend looters trying to slip
out unnoticed with evacuee's property. Thieves, looking for things
to steal, would routinely circulate throughout the many, soon to be
vacant and deserted, residential subdivisions, neighborhoods, businesses
and industrial parks.
As we arrived in the Angleton
area very early in the morning of the 9th, the mad rush was just beginning.
There had been two minor car wrecks along Highway 288 just north of
town. My partner and I stopped long enough to investigate the wrecks
and clear the roadway to get traffic moving again. We soon observed
that most all windows, buildings and residences throughout town were
either boarded up or taped up. Before long radio contact with the
Brazoria County Sheriff's Office was made. The radio dispatcher told
us, "Direct and expedite the flow of traffic on the streets and highways;
especially the heaviest traveled intersections. Get all these folks
out of town," and he reminded us, "Y'all be especially on the alert
for looter problems that could get bad later on."
After a long and tiring first day of evacuating the area, it was getting
pretty late, really close to midnight. We were informed that our sleeping
quarters would be in the basement of the Brazoria
County Courthouse. Upon arriving there, badly in need of some
rest, we found the courthouse basement already filled with storm evacuees;
men, women and children. Whoopee! We located the accommodation coordinator
and he was able to make adequate room for 10 or 12 of we exhausted
officers in a far corner of the basement. We were given a padded floor
mat and a pillow to sleep on the concrete floor. Not exactly the comforts
of home! We had to walk through and over a room full of evacuees already
asleep on the floor. It was there we spent the next 9 short nights
getting what little rest we were able to get. Since we all were working
16 to 18 hour shifts, our rest periods were brief. Practically all
officers slept in their uniforms. Most of us became so tired and ragged
out, we could have slept almost anywhere. Some of our officers frequently
slept their rest periods in our patrol cars. Thank heaven I was one
of the luckier ones getting to use indoor shelter every time.
The American Red Cross was a lifesaver for all the "in shelter" evacuees
and us. We officers greatly depended upon the Red Cross, their volunteers
and refreshment stations to provide us with sustaining food, coffee
and soft drinks at all the shelters. My hat's off to the American
Red Cross, forever! All cafes and retail food establishments had been
closed, boarded up and locked down for the evacuation. After the worst
of the wind and rain passed, Red Cross also had a great number of
roadside aid stations set up all over the area and we depended on
them until the end.
after day - night after night, many officers patrolled the area and
only took shelter very briefly as the worst part of the storm passed.
We helped move homeless people and many others without transportation,
to the shelters. And, oh how I vividly remember sitting in my patrol
car that third night watching a nearby industrial complex for trespassers
and looters. The wind and blowing rain was unbelievably furious and
strong. I could feel the gust rocking the car pretty severely. Never
in my life, before or since, have I seen such enormous amounts of
wind and rain. The force was so strong it was similar to the car being
sand blasted. The next day someone said, "Where's your decal trooper?"
I then noticed the state highway patrol decal had been blown completely
off the driver's side door. How spectacular! Amazing! My experience
has always been that you can hardly even scrape or chisel a decal
off, let alone the wind blowing it off. Frequently, I have had to
drive those cars in excess of 120 MPH and decals never got blown off.
I showed it to my wife upon arrival back home days later and she was
aghast. Everyone seeing it seemed totally amazed at winds being so
strong as to strip a decal off. I later reported it to my supervisor
and within a few weeks the decal was replace.
Patrolling through residential neighborhoods, we saw house after house
completely blown away. Street after street littered with personal
effects, clothing, furniture, pictures, large clocks, memorabilia
and anything you could think of, scattered over a wide area. At one
point, we came upon a large wooden gun cabinet full of rifles and
shotguns, burst open and scattered in the street. We braved the fierce
wind and rain, collected the guns and took them all to the Sheriff's
Office for storage. As I passed down one street, I noticed this concrete
slab foundation completely bare. There were many, many others like
it. But this one had only the bathtub remaining and only the bottom
row of brick around the perimeter of the slab. In the front yard,
on the sidewalk, was a child's bicycle still standing up on the kickstand,
never even having been blown over. Spectacular! Time after time, we
observed these unusual and bazaar situations that only occur during
the most volatile acts of nature. Things that are humanly impossible
Rattlesnakes by the thousands had surfaced upon the levees and higher
ground to escape the water. The most frequent malady affecting Hurricane
Carla victims were injuries received seeking refuge from floodwaters
in trees infested with likeminded snakes. I remember hearing one group
of officers tell of shooting hundreds upon hundreds of the snakes.
Livestock that had been abandoned through negligence or perhaps not
enough time to move them out of the area, were seen hanging, alive
and dead, in treetops. The 22-foot tidal surge had floated and washed
large animals high enough to lodge them in the trees. The surge had
also trapped people in their attics, on their rooftops and frequently,
in their cars. Those people had "sheltered in place" and refused or
failed, for some reason, to evacuate. I remember helping rescue one
poverty ridden young lady alone with her 4 kids. She had only recently
moved into the area and had no radio or TV. She claimed she was completely
unaware that a vicious storm was approaching. She and the kids were
trapped on their rooftop. Many hundreds of people were rescued by
volunteers or law enforcement officers and emergency rescue crews.
Many others weren't and their corpses were later located and removed.
Early mandatory evacuation measures are credited with greatly reducing
the loss of lives.
the storm passed and most everyone having been evacuated, the whole
area was, to a great extent, completely still and quite. Any vehicle
seen moving about in the area and loaded with property was suspicious
and a potential looter. They were also in violation of the local curfew.
Many looters were arrested over several days and a great amount of
Along about the 13th and 14th, large numbers of residents began slowly
coming back into the area eager to see their property damage and make
arrangements for cleanup and repair. Many of those later wished they
had not returned so soon since they had nothing left to return to,
nowhere to go or stay. With the returning evacuees, traffic congestion
posed no problem since they returned at a trickle compared to how
they had left. No special traffic supervision was needed for their
return. And I believe it was on the 16th, all orders and curfews were
lifted. Residents were allowed back in the area over the entire effected
coastal region and a mass cleanup and rebuild was started.
Some of our officers began to be relieved of duty and returned home.
My partner and I remained in the storm riddled area a while longer,
patrolling and assisting local officers. They had to secure, identify
and tag all stolen property that had been recovered. It was case evidence
and would later be returned to the rightful owners.
On the 18th we were relieved of duty in Brazoria
County and allowed to leave the savagely ravaged county behind
and return home to Crosby. That made me one very "happy camper". Although
very grateful, I was extremely glad to leave that padded mat on the
concrete floor and leave the snack food, coffee and cold drinks behind.
Anxiously arriving home, I was reminded that I had missed my young
son's first birthday party on September 10th.
My heart is still greatly saddened today when I see the pain, agony
and tremendous loss many victims of these horrendous disasters have
to endure. God be with them.
© N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" September
1, 2006 Column