Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hurricane Carla, Galveston, 1961

Hurricane Carla

I was born and raised on Galveston Island just off the Texas Gulf Coast. My parents owned a typical small post World War II house on the west part of the island which was not protected by the sea wall. I loved that little house and it was a good place to grow up. There were kids in almost every house and we all played inside or outside each others houses. There was a brand new elementary school just across the street where everyone went to elementary school.  There were occasional storms or hurricanes but the first one that I remember was Hurricane Audrey in August, 1957 when I was 10 years old. My father was a merchant mariner with Lykes Bros. and was at sea at the time. My mother decided that Audrey was probably not going to be much of a problem to Galveston so we would stay in our little house.  During the storm, water from the bay backed up just to the top of the doorstep. The National Guard came by in an big truck and evacuated us. I remember so clearly being carried by the Guardsman through the swirling water to the truck and then to an evacuation center.  
I mention all this to explain why in 1961 when we were watching Carla build up in the Gulf, there was absolutely no question in our minds that we would leave the island. We went to my Aunt Lillian and Uncle Marvin's house in East Texas; my brother Roger who was 15 years older than me, brought his family also.  We sat glued to the television and marveled as Dan Rather reported on the storm and showed the actual radar picture of the storm. If I am not mistaken, this was the first time radar was shown on television. 
After the storm, it was several days before we were allowed back on the island. We were all crammed into one car and that car was very low on gasoline. We were all worried that we would not have enough gasoline to make it over the causeway and to our home.   Driving into Galveston on Broadway, there were piles of wreckage several stories high that had been bulldozed off the street--big boats and piles of lumber. There was one gasoline station where they had a working hand pump and we were able to get gasoline to make it home.
Our house still stood! The brick facade on the front was lying in the yard and there was debris all over the place but my house was still there!  We couldn't open the front door so we had to go around to the back door to get in. Oh what a sight the inside of the house was! There had been about 3 feet of seawater inside and as it receded, it had left a coating of mud over everything. It looked like there was a coating of chocolate over the floors and furniture. But it sure didn't smell like chocolate. 
My brother's house was on higher ground and had not been damaged at all. So we camped out there for 2 weeks while we cleaned out our house. All the furniture and carpets were piled in the yard and hosed down and left to dry in the sun. My mother was constantly worried about snakes as there were many around. We salvaged what furniture that we could. The hardwood floors buckled in places and the sheetrock in the walls had to be replaced.  My parents decided to raise the house about 5 feet to protect it from future storms. There was no help from the government and nor from insurance since the damage was from rising water. 
Eventually the house was raised and repaired and became a home again but it was much hard work and sacrifice. 

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