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Hurricane Harvey Brings Back Memories of Devastation in 1970

Almost 50 years ago, Hurricane Celia devastated Rockport. Hurricane Harvey is heading there now.

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Hurricane damage in Rockport on Aug. 6, 1970.
AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Darrell Davidson

Democratic political consultant Jeff Crosby was just ten-years old when Hurricane Celia slammed into his hometown of Rockport in 1970, leaving behind widespread devastation and 32 dead. If Hurricane Harvey stays on its current track, it will make landfall at Rockport either late Friday or early Saturday as a Category 3 hurricane, the first major storm to hit the area since Celia.

Crosby says too many people are living there now who have never been through a major hurricane. “They don’t know they should be scared,” he says. “I hope they show some sense and get the hell out of there. But I’m afraid some of them won’t respect that even though we’ve had things like Katrina and all that. Unless you’ve been a part of it, or talked to someone who’s been a part of it, you just don’t know how wild those things can be.”

Celia swept the coast with winds of as much as 160 miles per hour. News reports from the August 1970 storm described Corpus Christi as “scalped,” as the storm took the roofs off most homes and destroyed much of the downtown business district. “In less than an hour, 13 persons died, although some bodies would not be found for days. In less than two hours, a half billion dollars damage was inflicted on the Corpus Christi area,” the Associated Press reported. “Water in Corpus Christi Bay was literally blown away, briefly grounding boats and exposing the bay floor.”

While Celia was a storm of wind, Harvey is expected to be a storm of water, surging four to six feet as it comes ashore. National Weather Service storm surge maps predict large portions of Port Aransas, Aransas Pass and Rockport will be submerged. Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb said the city was on the verge of a mandatory evacuation.

Crosby’s father was overseas with the U.S. Air Force, and he and his mother were living on Key Allegro in Rockport when Celia suddenly changed course and headed to the coastal town. The pair evacuated first toward Victoria, but then went on to San Antonio after his mother learned how high the winds were going to be. When they returned home after the storm, the devastation they found was terrible.

And I mean that was crazy. People who rode it out, who wished they’d never done that, if they could peek out the window, they said it looked like the horizon across Aransas Bay was full of little tornadoes up and down. They call them white energy cells. That’s what, apparently, these things were. They came up and down, up and down, it got super loud if one came by.

And it was really weird. I mean these people, as I recall, they were in a concrete house, which is kind of odd down there. So they felt pretty safe before the storm. And it’s two stories, like most everything there, you got your main living area on the second story because of hurricanes and tropical storms—flooding. So they felt pretty cocky. By the end of the storm, they were huddled all together, all of them wearing life preserves on the second story of the house. They all thought they were going to die. And that’s how, just, you know, the shocking things.

The other one that blew me—there was a woman down the street, whose house, the roof got completely ripped off and she lost a whole bunch of family memories. Pictures, photos, everything. She’s out there wandering in this marsh looking for her stuff. She was utterly, completely distraught. She was completely insane.

There was another one, right there on the main drag of Key Allegro, right after you come down the bridge, one of those three houses in a row things. The one on the left, the roof had been blown off and the woman was in there, washing the dishes in the sink. The roof completely blown off. She was in shock too. That was the first sight I saw when we came back to the island. Was her, and my mother going, “Oh, Lord.”

Crosby says he has long believed that Corpus Christi and the Rockport area were overdue for another major storm. “I’ve kind of been waiting on this for years now,”he explains. “Because obviously, the Galveston area has been pounded. And the Valley has gotten a few storms. But the central coastal bend area has been spared. There were a couple of relatively strong tropical storms while we were there. But I think they maybe have had one hurricane of any significance. And I don’t even think it hit there, I think it hit south of Corpus.”

According to surge reports, the region will get its due storm in the next few days. And along with the expected surge, Harvey will likely bring heavy rains as it stalls out over the coast and Central Texas, delivering extensive flooding. The residents of Rockport and Corpus Christi haven’t had to respond to a devastating storm since Celia wreaked havoc in 1970—but this weekend, walls of water may strike again.

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  • WUSRPH

    More people….more buildings…more everything and state government that (except for Jerry Patterson) has refused and is continuing to refuse to accept that people who live near the sea will feel its wrath….What will it take for them to learn that we insist on living right up on the sea, we need to take that precious Rainy Day Fund (and probably much more) and protect ourselves? How many dead?….how many billions and billions of dollars in property loses?….Build the barriers…enforce the build codes…..teach people to “go to the beach” and not live on it.. And, accept the fact that because of what Trump calls a hoax promoted by the Chinese and too many others of his party deny–CLIMATE CHNAGE—it is only going to get worse.

  • José

    Those of us from further south will remember that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Beulah. It was also a Category 3 hurricane and it hit the Valley pretty hard.

  • SpiritofPearl

    My first hurricane since moving to Texas . . .

    Be safe!

  • BCinBCS

    The summer of 1970 I had just finished my freshman year of college. I had grown up on the coast in Freeport (60 miles due south of Houston) but decided to spend the summer at my grandparents in Corpus Christi. Along came hurricane Celia.

    The three of us sat in the breakfast area next to the door that went into the backyard. It had a small window about two feet tall by a foot and a half wide that had glass in it that, to my absolute amazement would bulge about three-quarters of an inch with each wind gust. I never knew that glass could bend that much. When the wind was from the south, I slipped out the north facing front door into the protection of the lee of the house and witnessed rain blowing horizontally. It struck me as odd that the ground was flooded since I could not see any way that the rain could reach the ground since it was not falling. I could not see the houses across the street. During the storm, I never was scared, but I was plenty apprehensive.

    Now, the hurricane was bad enough but the aftermath was horrible. As everyone knows, hurricanes are but one way that the earth redistributes atmospheric and oceanic heat and it is this heat that fuels them. Consequently, hurricanes occur in the summer, especially in August. After the wind, rain and clouds of the storm pass, the area is left with temperatures in the mid- to upper-90’s, since it’s summer and relative humidity of 100% due to all of the rain, so it is hot. The solution? Turn on the air conditioner – but wait, there’s no electricity. O.K. just settle for a fan – there’s no electricity. So suffer. Being that it is hot and dripping sweaty, a cold drink would certainly be nice but there’s no refrigeration or ice because there’s no electricity. It’s not possible to go anywhere either because gasoline is in short supply because…you guessed it… there’s no electricity to pump the gas out of the stations tanks. My grandfather was a regional sale manager for an insurance company and had won a trip to Mexico City that departed the day after Celia hit so I was alone like this for a week before the electricity was restored.

    This story brings me to my recommendation concerning hurricanes. Leave. Pack your bags along with your most valuable papers and photos and Leave. In the end, you will be glad that you did.

  • BCinBCS

    If you would like to see something very impressive go to:

    https://radar.weather.gov/radar.php?product=NCR&rid=crp&loop=yes

    That’s the National Weather Service weather radar loop for Corpus Christi. If you want to watch over time, click the Autoupdate button at the bottom-right of the image from off to on and it will refresh the radar image when a new one is posted about every five minutes.

    (It’s Friday at about 1:30 pm but this classic shape should last all day.)

    BTW, you might want to bookmark (make a favorite of) the site and adjust the location to where you live by either entering your city or zip into the box in the center above the image of by using the arrows located under the NOAA symbol to move about one radar site at a time.

  • Jeff Crosby

    Note to self: Simple, declarative sentences are best.

  • Jeff Crosby

    I just saw a CNN news video that quoted the Aransas County Sheriff saying 50%-60% rode it out. Early in the report, the reporter interiewed a guy I’m pretty sure I knew when I was a kid. Judging from this and other videos, the damage looks worse than Celia.

  • WUSRPH

    If you think Harvey was bad (and how bad we still do not know) just imagine the impact one the country and the world of a combination of a “shutdown” federal government and a possible default on the national debt, perhaps at the same time…..Ryan and McConnell tell us not to worry… that The Congress will live up to its responsibilities and deal with both potential crises…and this time they seem to have Ted “I brought the government down last time” Cruz on board…although you can never tell with Ted.. But then there is always Trump who rotates back and first from playing Pontius Pilate (it ain’t my fault) to threatening to be Samson in the federal temple if he doesn’t get The Wall that he promised us Mexico would pay for….All in all, an “interesting” month ahead of us as the Congress gets down to work again next week.

  • WUSRPH

    Anyone thing there is any chance the Legislature will use some/all of the “Rainy Day Fund” to help with the recovery from Harvey?

    I suspect that some of the inland folks will oppose it….after all, they choose to live in that hot-bed of socialism.

  • WUSRPH

    Most of the plans for protecting the coastal areas, especially the Houston-Galveston area, that have been unveiled in the years since our last storms—but not funded or even approved by our state leadership—have dealt more with how to keep the water from tidal surges out….but, as Harvey (and how many other storms before it) have shown, there is clearly a need to do something about getting the water “out” and controlling where it goes…Many, many years ago the Addicks and Barkers reservoirs were established as holding areas for water in situations like this…but that was several millions of people ago….before more and more buildings, highways and structures covered up more and more of the earth so that the water could not sink in and more and more people built where they should not……In theory all of this might even lead to more regulation of where and what you can build in areas like this….but, of course, Gov. Abbott would probably oppose such things as violating the freedom of a property owner to do stupid things with his property that affects his neighbors….

    I feel particularly sorry for those folks who either did not think about the need for coastal residents, especially those who live in low-lying areas, to purchase flood insurance or who somehow thought they were covered by the windstorm insurance or their existing policies…..Can you see the Texas Legislature/Abbott/Patrick approving anything but token aid for such folks?….Of course, the fact that there are just a few hundreds of thousands of voters in the affected areas might make a sensible politician think about such things BUT? Ron Paul used to oppose federal aid programs for people in situations like this on the ground that it was a local responsibility….I wonder if we will see Abbott and his ilk talking that way now….

    Folks like Jerry Patterson tried to get the State to do more than talk about “long term” planning….but he could never seem to be able to get anyone to do something about adopting or implementing a plan….One would hope that FINALLY they may have learned….but somehow I doubt it.