Countdown To Hurricane Carla
Carla Teased Entire Texas Coast Before 'Picking' Site
(Fourth In Series Of Articles)
BY BERT C. WEST
Marvin Curtis, who was the mayor of Palacios in 1961, says everyone in Palacios was aware of the brewing Carla as early as Wednesday, Sept. 6, before the storm had entered the Gulf.
Once Carla did swirl into the Gulf on Thursday morning, Sept. 7, probable landfall sites ranged all the way from Florida to the Texas-Louisiana border. By Friday morning, a high pressure area nudged Carla ever more westward, and the Hurricane Watch area was extended to include the entire Texas coast--the Weather Bureau was calling Carla a major hurricane.
"We began to get serious (about preparedness) on Friday. That storm was so huge that it filled the entire radar screen," Curtis says.
He points out that, in 1961, there were no localized committees on plans for hurricane preparedness, evacuations, rescue, etc., as there are today.
By 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, Carla no longer wavered between Florida and Texas, but now, with its winds at 125 mph, concentrated on Texas and Louisiana. Tides along the Texas coast were 2-3 feet above normal. Carla's course, from about 400 miles south of New Orleans, changed to a more westerly course.
For more than three days Carla would change courses, stall, start-up, stall as she teased the Gulf Coast all the way to Brownsville while the fury of her winds and rains, plus tornadoes, raked the entire Texas coast.
On Saturday morning, Sept. 9, the Weather Bureau said that although Carla's center was more than 300 miles offshore, outer edges of winds and high tides were touching the coast, and projected that the wavering course would hit the middle Texas coast, but was expected to curve north and east.
It was now expected Carla would hit sometime Sunday. At 10 a.m. Saturday, the Weather Bureau changed its forecast of high tides to 10-15 feet, said the winds had grown to 135 mph, and area over which Carla caused gales (or worse) had grown from 425 miles to 500 miles in diameter.
By noon Saturday, the exodus from neighboring Calhoun County was well underway. Coastal highways in both Texas and Louisiana were becoming flooded.
At 4 p.m., Carla continued on a westward course, moving closer to the middle and lower Texas coast.
At 6 p.m., Carla was centered 300 miles southeast of Galveston, still the same massive size and on the same course. The giant storm had tried repeatedly to head inland but was always rebuffed by a high pressure system.
At 10 p.m. Saturday, Carla finally did shift northward and was centered about 255 miles southeast of Galveston. With the change, Palacios police and Highway Patrol cars began driving throughout town, sounding their sirens and loudspeakers, urging the remaining residents to evacuate immediately.
At 10.38 p.m., one forecaster said Carla compared with the 1900 hurricane that slammed a gigantic tidal wave over Galveston Island, killing from 5,000 to 8,000 people.
Throughout Saturday night and early Sunday morning, winds in excess of 90 mph were raking the middle to upper coast.
At 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, Carla had stalled. An hour later the Weather Bureau said Carla, centered 190 miles from Galveston, was still stalled.
The storm began making a series of movements by what was called "fits and starts," first toward Galveston, then toward Corpus Christi, then back toward the north. By Sunday noon, Carla's center was said to be 160 miles from Galveston.
At 4 p.m., Weather Bureau said Carla was expected to move inland between Aransas Pass and Galveston late Sunday night.
Houston Press reporter Gene Wilburn rode out Carla with 81 refugees inside Wagner General Hospital. On Sunday afternoon, Wilburn said he was told by Deputy Sheriff E. T. Miller, "If anything can ride out this storm, it will be the Pavilion."
"That little old shell means a lot to these people (Palacians. It's the one thing most people know is located here. Even the hurricane of '45 did little damage to it.," Miller said.
Throughout Sunday night, as Carla's center edged to within 115 miles of Corpus Christi, the Weather Bureau kept repeating that landfall was expected "late tonight". Massive flooding, wind damage and power outages were reported all along the mid to upper coast.
At midnight, the Weather Bureau bulletin said Carla was now not expected until dawn, and that the 30-mile wide eye was expected to smash the coast somewhere between Aransas Pass and the Matagorda Bay Area!
Excerpts from a Carla timetable published in Harry Estill Moore's 1964 book, "....and the winds blew," include these for Monday, Sept. 11:
1 a.m.: Carla still 110 miles off Corpus Christi, apparently stalled again. Wind gusts had increased to 150 mph, twice the hurricane strength of 75 mph. Heavy rains impacting the coast.
5 a.m.: Carla, 85 miles from Corpus Christi, was moving at 10 mph and the center was 60 miles from nearest coastal point, Port O'Connor.
6 a.m.: Tides were expected to even higher than 15 feet.
7 a.m.: Carla now 65 miles from Corpus Christi.
8 a.m.: Radar reports indicated Carla had stopped.
11 a.m.: Still stopped as winds, high tides, and rains continued to wreak havoc.
11:37 a.m.: A rumor that a tidal wave was coming to Corpus Christi caused great concern until the Weather Bureau assured people the rumor was false.
Noon: Carla had started to move. The center was expected to move slowly into the Matagorda Bay area late in the afternoon.
2 p.m. "The center of Carla is now nearing Matagorda Island and Port O'Connor." The eye of Carla was finally grounding ashore.
Sometime between 3-4 p.m., when the barometer suddenly went down and down until the recording needle was below the prepared chart, at an estimated 27.62, the huge eye was apparently sucked over Port O'Connor and into both Port Lavaca and Palacios at the same time. Wind gusts were estimated at 175 mph. The Highway Patrol reported "winds blew parallel to the ground, caused waves 40-feet high, and threw debris up as high as stories."
During the lull while the eye passed over, it was reported that in Port Lavaca exhausted birds from Yucatan, caught up in the storm, had plopped into the streets.
5 p.m. Palacios was now getting the backside of the storm.
10:41 p.m. A false but persistent report said that Palacios was under water from a tidal wave (Civil Defense files). The mistake was understandable‹water had backed up in narrow Palacios Bay to a height of 15.4 feet (Corps of Engineers).
11 p.m.: Carla was centered near Yoakum and heading toward Austin. The storm was to bring a record low in barometric pressure to Austin, Waco and Fort Worth.
2 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12: The Weather Bureau issued its last hourly position report on Carla.
4:30 a.m.: An expedition of highway patrolmen tried to reach Palacios and Matagorda, but could not get into Matagorda because of high water.
6:30 a.m.: The expedition reached Palacios and immediately set up roadblocks. The Mayor and Sheriff ordered that only emergency utility workers be admitted. The first report from the expedition said "The streets are littered with splintered lumber.....dead cattle are scattered through the town, creating a sickening stench.....with a freakish twist, the hurricane tore the shingles from roofs like scales off a fish, ripped bricks off the sides of buildings, and in cases leveled new, sturdy brick buildings and left old frame buildings standing beside them....Hundreds of rattlesnakes buzzed the streets."
The Department of Public Safety, in its files on Carla, said among the first duties of police in Palacios was "the elimination of all injured and crazed livestock and dogs; the elimination of snakes and alligators, checking all businesses and residences for snakes."
One of the terrible misfortunes in the news reporting on Carla was made by the Houston Chronicle when, in its first report about Palacios, by reporter Mike Thorne, carried the page one headlines:
"38 Residents Missing; Death Stalks Streets of Devastated Palacios; Water Supply Polluted."
At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Carla was about 200 miles north from Palacios, was still dangerous, but no longer classified as a hurricane. Still, she would maintain an identity until she passed the range of two Air Force bases and Camp Tuto in Greenland on Sept. 16th--and returned to her native element, the sea, ending a 13-day career as one the all-time great and most destructive hurricanes.
PART 5: Recollections of a Storm Named Carla...CLICK HERE
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