Sunday, August 17, 2014
MY SUMMER OF 1969 WITH CAMILLE AND WOODSTOCK
It was exactly 45 years ago and I was a graduate student at Louisiana State University when Hurricane Camille devastated the gulf coast of Mississippi. 17 August 1969 was also the final day of Woodstock in New York. Pearl and I could well have experienced both. Mind you, this was the period when Armstrong had just walked on the moon, our cities were in riot (Ferguson... pales by comparison) and we were losing the Vietnam War. Here's the story.
We missed Camille mostly because we changed our schedule and, earlier that summer, drove from Baton Rouge to Florida through the coastline of Mississippi, and back. In August we then found our way to Montreal to visit the site of the 1967 World Expo. We heard there was a rock concert being held in Woodstock and toyed with driving the four hours there, for it was on our way back to Baton Rouge. That is when Camille stormed up the Gulf of Mexico towards Mississippi.
Camille, indeed, was the storm of the century. It was only the second Category 5 hurricane to make landfall over the U.S., the first being the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and that was the named used. Third was Andrew in 1992. Names began to be applied only from 1953, and they were all female until 1979. Katrina in 2005 was "only" a Category 4, but was the most expensive, said to have caused damages of $125 billion. Both Camille and Katrina names were retired, with five just in 2005, most ever in one year. In all, 78 names are no longer used.
Camille attained 175 MPH over Mississippi and had a destruction worth close to $10 billion today. However, the speed is not official because all the measurement equipment was destroyed. The best guess on that 1935 monster was 185 MPH. The system of measuring strength is called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and, perhaps appropriately enough, the story is that Camille was named after Bob Simpson's daughter. Simpson at the time of scale development was director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
I drove by the hurricane site in 1972 and saw the total devastation. The coastal road disappeared. Here is the Richelieu Hotel, before and after:
There were several controversies, and the one that still sticks in my mind is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at that time was experimenting with reducing the effect of budding storms using silver iodide. Simpson himself was involved with Project Stormfury. The rumor is that the team seeded Hurricane Camille, which catalyzed the sudden growth in the Gulf. The cover story, however, is that Hurricane Debbie, which had formed just after Camille, was actually the experimented storm. If you today checked the world wide web, there is now no link to Camille. NOAA, it is hinted, systematically expunged any connection of hurricane seeding with Camille. But, then, did you hear the conspiracy theory about the Japanese Yakuza using a Russian-made electronic generator to cause Hurricane Katrina, in retaliation for the U.S. using an A-Bomb over Hiroshima? Of course, Hurricane Sandy two years ago also had a few of them. Now that I've descended into the ridiculous, time to change courses and end with...
....Woodstock. My interest in this gathering goes back to 1967 when I was a process engineer with the Hutchinson Sugar Company in Naalehu, and was asked to do something different for their annual fair. To quote from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth:
...annual July 4th Fair, organized what I called The First Annual Battle of the Bands, which might have been the first rock concert held in Hawaii. It was a huge success. Oh, what an impresario future I might have had if I continued that thrust. I think I invented the concept. There were no such things as Woodstock in the early 60’s, where rock groups came together to entertain the public in an outdoor setting.
By the way, if you clicked on that book, you would have noticed that a USED copy can now be purchased for $455.99. In any case, we had to rush back to Baton Rouge, and never got to Woodstock. If you're nevertheless interested in what people did 45 years ago, watch this almost X-rated documentary by clicking on WOODSTOCK. It is an hour long.