N. Ray Maxie
Stripped Decal From Patrol Car Door
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
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.|
like Freeport, Clute,
Lake 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
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 Matagorda Counties. 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.
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 to explain.
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 property recovered.
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
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
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