This month marks 39 years since Hurricane Celia hit the South Texas coast between Corpus Christi and Aransas Pass. I was among those who evacuated the morning before the storm hit. Though hurricanes don't change, the way we deal with them has changed - some for the better and some for the worse.This photo is of damage to property in Aransas Pass.
I am a Corpus Christi native, but was living with my family in Houston at the time Celia hit. As was often the case, my cousin, Teresa, and I were staying with my Grandmother in her mobile home in the little fishing village of Fulton, just one block from Aransas Bay. One of the many shrimping boats tossed around and damaged by Celia.
There was no Doppler Radar or Weather Channel at that time. The best way for folks to track hurricanes was by plotting longitude, latitude, barometric pressure, and wind speeds on a hurricane map, which everyone had. Because of that, everyone became their own weather predictor to some extent. Hurricane watches and warnings were issued as they are today, but it was considered more a recommendation than a mandate.
On Sunday evening, a watch had been called for our area, so everyone was on alert making preliminary plans and preparations and keeping a close ear to the radio and television news. On Monday morning, Teresa and I awoke in the dark wee hours to the voices of uncles, Grandmother and the radio. The watch had been upgraded to a warning and now plans had to turn into action. My Grandad, who was away at the time, owned a small shrimp boat, the Pee Wee, and my uncles were discussing how to get her out of the harbor and into a safe place before taking their own families away. Celia's wind speeds were only 90 m.p.h. at this point, so there was not a huge amount of concern, just caution. As 12 year olds, Teresa and I though this was terribly exciting!The National Guard keeps watch for looting in Corpus.
Teresa and I packed our bags and helped Grandmother with some preparations. Since there was time to kill before heading out, we walked down to Fulton harbor to see what we could see. At the docks and boat ramps, shrimpers were scurrying to secure or tow out their boats, but the most incredible site we saw (and I've never seen it since) was the bay itself. The water had fled its normal place due to the tidal action of the storm and was hundreds of feet out from the shoreline, leaving the sandy bottom fully exposed. At that point we realized that this was serious business and our excitement changed to sobriety.
At last it was time to go, and Teresa and I anxiously parted ways - she with her family, and I with Grandmother to my home in Houston. By this time the sky had grown very ominous. I'll never forget the look and color of the clouds. The doors of the Corpus Christi Coliseum are opened for folks to receive aid from the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
The few days we were away were anxious ones. The news reports weren't encouraging. Celia's 90 m.p.h. winds had leaped just prior to landfall to 130 m.p.h. and millions of dollars of damage had been done. My parents owned a small motel in Fulton - the Glen Mar - which my Grandmother managed, and we were all just a tad nervous. Even more importantly, we were anxious for family and friends. There were no cell phones, of course, and with lines down, communication was challenging.
When we returned to Fulton, we were so relieved to discover that - except for downed limbs and one broken window - the Glen Mar and Grandmother's home were fine. For the most part, Fulton had escaped devastation. There was certainly a lot of damage, but there could have been so much more for a village built right on the bay. One of the strangest sights I remember was Trep's Grocery right on Fulton Beach Road. Half of it was gone, just like a giant had stamped his mighty foot down and squashed it. The remaining half was absolutely fine, down to the goods still sitting on their shelves! We speculated that perhaps a tornado had hit it.People line up for ice from one of the many trucks that shipped in ice.
As family regrouped back in Fulton and Rockport, the adults were off to do clean-up duty while we children stayed at Grandmother's. She spread sheets in the tree limbs to create a large pavilion of shade and that's where we brought all the chairs and cots from the house. We kept one or two coolers for perishables with the ice we were able to get from the ice trucks and spent a lot of time swimming in the big, round cattle trough that Grandmother kept as a swimming pool for the grandchildren. We actually had a great time! Businesses and restaurants reopened quickly thanks to the hard work of the power company. Even those places that had a lot of damage held their business in their parking lots. Unfortunately, there were many homes and businesses that were mostly or completely destroyed, and aid poured in from everywhere to help with the rebuilding.
One of the many communication centers.
A few days later when folks were allowed to reenter Corpus, we took the 30 minute drive to Corpus, passing through Aransas Pass and Portland. Our mouths hung open at the devastation we saw there. We didn't spend to much time gawking because of on-going recovery efforts, but we had answers to our concerns about the city. Amazingly, we were able to get some grocery-shopping done there, shopped at Woolco Department Store, and ate at a restaurant near the bay.
Obviously we didn't have as bad a time with Celia as many, many others did. But, now as I watch the proceedings before and following hurricanes, I find so many interesting differences between now and then. Storm-tracking and predictions have, of course, improved 100%. It's truly amazing what information we can now have to evaluate storms and know what action to take. Evacuation efforts have also improved 100%. Even as recent as Hurricane Rita three years ago, we've learned more and more about moving people out of harm's way. Recovery organization and efforts have also improved, in most part thanks to technology and communication improvements. The willingness of people to help has never changed. What has not improved, however, is the dependency upon Government rather than private sector and volunteer organizations, churches, and neighbors. The slow, bureaucratic maze of governmental proceedings seems to less-helpful than the previous groups listed.
Regardless of my musings and memories, as hurricane season is currently in effect, I can't help but pay close attention - it's just in my blood. I could tell you other hurricane stories, but I'll save them for another time!