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.