Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Carla revisted

Hurricane Carla, for whom I am not named, slammed the Texas coast Sept. 11, 1961, and at least for now, holds the record for the highest storm surge in the Lone Star state. Writes Jeff Masters' at Weather Underground: Carla was a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds at landfall, and drove a 10 foot or higher storm surge to a 180-mile stretch of Texas coast. A maximum storm surge of 22 feet was recorded at Port Lavaca, Texas. Despite the fact that the center of Carla hit over 120 miles southwest of Houston, the hurricane drove a 15-foot storm surge into the bays along the south side of the city.

Curiosity compelled me to learn more about the hurricane with my name. I found a colorful recollection of Carla by Texan Adela Kutch Farley, who was 31 years old at the time. When the stormwaters sucked their back door from the hinges, her husband Virgil shored up the front door with boards to keep the cows on the porch from smashing in. Adela, Virgil, the kids and the dog made for the attic, where they braced against the spray of saltwater through the roof vents. After the storm, rattlesnakes were everywhere, she said, "blinded by saltwater." "I hope and pray Carla was the 100-year-hurricane for us," she wrote in a special storm retrospective in the Jan. 6, 2005 online edition of the Palicios Beacon.

Though the "during" and "after" parts of Farley's account are evocative, my favorite anecdote is about her pre-storm restlessness. A woman after my own heart, Adela started cooking.
"Sunday night before Carla came in, I couldn't sleep, so I got up and started frying chicken and baked two cakes, as I knew we would be without electricity and water. When I turned the kitchen light on, I was met by millions of ants on the cabinet and crawling up the wall on both sides of the window, up to the attic. Were the ants trying to tell me something? I sprayed and sprayed everywhere, cleaned them up and started cooking."
If my math is correct, and if she is still alive, Mrs. Farley is around 77 now. Judging from my map, Palicios, known as "The City by the Sea," looks to be smack dab at the halfway point between Galveston and Corpus Christi. As Hurricane Ike approaches, mandatory evacuation has been issued for Palicios. I hope Mrs. Farley is far from there.

An interesting TV footnote:
All those intrepid (or foolish) wind-battered reporters who must suffer the obligatory "seaside report" have Dan Rather to thank. Says Wikipedia: Then little-known newsman Dan Rather reported live from the Galveston Seawall during the storm, an act that would be imitated by later reporters. Hurricane Carla marked the first live TV broadcast of a hurricane: "Our graphics were a little unpolished, but that day we did something that had never been done before: put a live radar image of a hurricane on television," said Rather.

Photo of Hurricane Carla aftermath from MSNBC archive
I.D. of woman unknown

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