Posted: 3:19 pm Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Gulf coast felt Camille’s fury 40 years ago 

By Eliot Kleinberg

Forty years ago this week, one of history’s great hurricanes, Camille, smashed the Mississippi coast. Here’s an anniversary story.

The most profound tale from Camille is that of the dozen people who gathered at the Richelieu Apartments, in the Gulf Coast town of Pass Christian, Miss.

Stocked with food and drink, they were going to have a hurricane party.

While everyone else had fled inland, the group was bent on a wild ride, watching winds lash trees and whip the surf into foam. Besides, most forecasts had the brunt of the storm striking 100 miles to the east in the Florida Panhandle.

Another dozen Richelieu residents also opted to wait out the storm in their apartments.

But Camille hit Pass Christian head-on that Aug. 17, 1969, its 200 mph winds making it the second-most powerful ever to strike North America, behind only the Florida Keys’ 1935 Labor Day Storm.

And the next morning, there were no partyers and no Richelieu. Just a slab. One of the 24 was found alive, clinging to a tree 5 miles inland.

The moral of the story, as if Floridians need to be told: a hurricane is not a time to party. It’s serious business.

Richelieu Apartments, before and after Hurricane Camille, 1969.
Photo by Chauncey Hinman. Courtesy Harrison County, Miss., Public Library.