Recollections Of Hurricane Carla
This is the final in a series of articles marking the 40th annivarsary of Hurricane Carla that swept through the Palacios area....leaving devastation and destruction in its wake. It was the last hurricane to strike the City by the Sea.
Below are four of the more than 30 personal recollections written by Palacios area residents of that fateful week in September 1961 and that are published in a special section in this week's Sept. 5th issue of the Palacios Beacon. Individual copies of the special section are available for $2 each.
The following recollections were written and submitted by Adela Kutach Farley, Ken Brandon, Fred Diaz and Margaret Johnson.
Trapped and riding it out at Carancahua
By ADELA KUTACH FARLEY
"Hurricane Carla!" She was out in the Gulf, headed towards our area, winds already 150 mph. We put things up so we wouldn't lose them in high wind. I've been here in Carancahua since 1940 and rode out all storms prior to Carla. Yes, sir!
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.
I packed a box to carry out with us and also a radio with new batteries in it. Also fixed breakfast and called the family to get up and eat.
The family was my husband, Virgil; son, Benny, who was 13; and daughter, Marilyn, who was seven. I was only 31 years old at that time. At daybreak, we looked out and saw the creek near our house was extra full of water and the bridge was covered with water. We also found out the other bridge down the road was under water, too, so we were trapped in. We sat down and listened on the radio to what Carla was doing. We unloaded the car and picked things up and sat items high on chests of drawers, table, top of closets, etc. Now, all we had to do was ride Carla out!
The wind was blowing hard. Virgil said the house would take it, if a tornado wasn't around. He put boards, hammer, nails, rope, life jackets, crowbar, etc., in the utility room in case we needed those items.
We wondered about my parents, Ben and Annie Kutach, as they lived near the Carancahua bayfront, and my mother's parents, Granny and Gramps Heinrich, lived nearby and were in their 80s.
My daddy was a good carpenter (really a jack-of-all-trades). Whatever he did, he did it right. He built his house in 1942 and he built Granny and Gramps' house and also helped us build ours. I remember him saying as he hammered nails in, "This is one for hurricane storm season." Each rafter board and studs had an extra nail.
We had no way of communicating with anyone as the storm approached and knocked out the electricity. Even the radio with new batteries had too much static to hear the weather forecast.
Carla came in late Monday evening as the water came rolling in and the waves of water. The windows had boards over them, but there was enough space in between to see outside. I didn't know how high the water was going to come up and inside, so Virgil knocked a hole in the ceiling to the attic with the tools and boards that Benny had to dive into the utility room to retrieve as water poured in. We had also moved our food and provisions to the attic. I had Marilyn standing on a chair and it was trying to float with her. She was scared.
The back door was sucked out and our dog, Lady, was swimming around. We put her in the attic with us. Virgil took the board and nailed three across the front door as four cows were on a 4x6 porch, trying to get out of the water. We saw one cow on top of an 8-foot cedar tree.
Up in the attic, watching the water rise, we felt the spray of saltwater that came in through the air vents on the roof. If the water kept coming up we were to put on life jackets and tie ourselves with the rope and be linked together. Virgil was going to knock a hole in the roof with the sledge hammer and crowbar. We kept praying that we wouldn't have to go out on the roof.
When the water started to go down, Virgil was watching it below on the cabinets. It got just to the underside of the cabinet top (like 35 inches of water in the house).
There we were in the attic and our big heavy bar cabinet on which we used to crawl up into the attic was overturned and had floated 10-feet to the other side of the dining room. When the water started to go down, Virgil said, "We better get down and pick up and clean with what water there is." He hung from the ceiling and dropped down into dinner plates, glasses, cups and bowls. He put the high chair under the hole and I handed him the lantern, food, water, etc. Benny went down and I handed him the dog, then Marilyn and then I went down.
Thank God for the dry and clean cabinet top, as that's where we put our food and drinking water, along with all the other containers I had caught water in earlier. Everything was turned over‹ dressers, chest of drawers, lamps‹ the beds were soaked.
The water line mark was 54 inches, plus the waves. We lost both our car and truck, chickens, morning doves, pump house, and the butane tank floated next to Highway 35. Finally, the water left out of our house except in the utility room, which was lower. We stayed up and pushed the muddy slush out. I had a plastic couch which made into a bed, where Benny and Marilyn slept the next night.
When morning came, Virgil and I looked out and what a mess we saw! The gas wells in the pastures sounded like rattlesnakes hissing. Virgil said he would go and see how my folks were and to help out there. He walked 2 1/2 miles to my parents' house. He saw so much debris‹ dead animals, houses torn up from a tornado, etc. My folks had a 7-foot water mark in their house and they had gone upstairs to escape the water. Granny was 86 years old. My dad had tied her to a sturdy chair and pulled her backwards up the stairs. Gramps could walk, but they helped him, anyway. Dad opened the front door to let the water come in to settle the house. So, they rode out the hurricane upstairs. Thank God, they were spared, so we had them for a while longer.
What a mess there was. We lost our car and the windows and windshield were broken out of our truck. The National Guard came in to help with looters and to keep our morale up. They asked if they could clean the truck's windshield. Ha!
Virgil fixed my dad's tractor so he could check on his cows. Only seven were left out of a herd of 20. We used the tractor to retrieve things out of the debris. My son, Benny, lost his tackle box and reels. He looked and looked for those items. Lucky he wasn't bit by a rattlesnake. They were everywhere, as they were blinded by the saltwater. A few days later as men were rounding up the loose cattle, our dog, Lady, ran past me as the cattle came down the road and tried to come into our yard. Lady startled a rattler as she ran past. The huge rattler raised up about 2-feet. I never reversed my gears so fast as that day. The snake's head was as huge as a big man's fist!
With mattresses so heavy, dripping with water, Virgil had to use the tractor to pull my Morning Glory mattress out of the front door after we had pulled and tugged to get it to the door. My sister, Annie and Joe Orsak came from Hungerford to help and to help our parents. Sister Helen Novak, living in Palacios, had water only under her house. She came and got all our wet clothes, and my parents' clothes, and washed them for us. That was a tremendous help, since she had three small children at the time.
Things weren't thrown away like nowadays, except for wet papers, boxes and things you didn't need. I still have my bedroom set, just needed washing off and some glue. Still have the chrome dinette table. Had a heavy couch and got it recovered and still have it. The Wizard refrigerator was washed and cleaned and Virgil got it working. We used it as an extra refrigerator in the garage until two years ago. Virgil didn't return to work at Alcoa for a while. There was just too much to do.
After the storm we went on a Saturday in the "no windshield truck" to John Russell Chevrolet in El Campo. Our truck was a 1961 and they were not to get the 62s til later in the month. The only truck they had was the "showroom floor" one. I guess that under the circumstances and since ours was only three months old, they sold the showroom truck to Virgil. We had purchased the '61 from Luther Chevrolet in Palacios. Mr. George Cartwright remembers it well.
We also lost our 24-foot bay shrimp boat, that we had enjoyed going out into the waters where it was peaceful. To pull up, drop the net and see all the ocean "critters" was really neat. We had brought the boat as far up the creek near our house as we could, but Carla decided to take it and overturn it. We repaired it and used it a while longer, before giving up that hobby.
I guess I could go on and on with the horrible aftermath of Carla. We cleaned and stayed up late every night, hardly stopping to cook and eat. I lost so much weight that I could wear my teenage son's jeans. But, since we stayed, we save our house. Benny never found his fishing equipment. Marilyn had long blonde hair, but being so scared during such an ordeal, her hair came out in bunches when I brushed it.
I hope and pray Carla was the 100-year hurricane for us.
We stayed when we shouldn't have....we were very lucky
By KEN BRANDON
These are my memories of Hurricane Carla as experienced by a 9-year old boy who became a 10-year old the day after Carla struck. I was a 4th grader at East Side Elementary in September, 1961. My dad, Thomas; my brother Tommy; my sister Becky; and I stayed in our home on Commerce during Hurricane Carla. We did not heed the advice of the law enforcement officials to evacuate Palacios.
Saturday September 9, 1961 was partly cloudy day. We had heard about the approaching hurricane named Carla, but on this day, she did not seem to be a great threat to Palacios. That afternoon, I joined my neighbors, Mrs. Lois Dismukes and James Carl, in their blue Buick for what would be our last ride out on the Pavilion. The bay was choppy, but the tide was not yet unusually high.
Later that night, after my dad and granddad had closed our store, evacuation warnings were issued. My family chose to remain in Palacios.
Sunday dawned with rain and wind. It was now easier to believe that a storm was approaching. We drove to our church, First Presbyterian, to find no one there and services canceled. We drove through town and observed how deserted it looked.
Later, following lunch, my dad, Tommy and I pulled boards out of the storage building behind our store, and boarded up the large windows along the front of our store. While we worked, we battled the wind and blowing rain.
We returned home watched television news reports about the hurricane. On KHOU, Channel 11, a young reporter, Dan Rather, covered the storm from Galveston. As conditions worsened, we decided we should lower our antenna. After we did this, we could no longer pickup any television stations. Radio became our sole source for news. We turned to Houston stations KILT 610AM and KTRH 740AM.
After hearing KILT state that Palacios had been totally evacuated, Becky called them and reported that we were still in Palacios. They put her on the air, and we listened as the DJ interviewed her.
It continued to rain and the wind blew harder. All night long it was stormy. It was not easy to sleep because it was very noisy.
Monday is the day Carla made landfall. Early in the morning, the winds were howling, and the rain beat heavily against the south and east windows. Even though the windows were securely locked, water bubbled under the bottom of the window and over the window sill. We discovered that if you raised the window, folded a newspaper and placed it in the bottom of the frame, and then closed the window firmly, we could stop the water from entering.
Dad and I went for a ride to check the conditions at our store. Everything looked okay, so we went by the Post Office and picked up Cornell Prindle, then Assistant Postmaster. First, we rode to South Bay. The tide was so high that it was at the top of the seawall. The waves washed ashore as if the shoreline were a beach. The waves were splashing over the deck of the Pavilion, but everything was still intact.
As we drove to East Bay, the wipers on Dad's Ford kept getting lifted off the windshield by the strong hurricane force winds. When we arrived at the East Bay pier, we spotted a boat that had broken free and was banging against the pier and seawall. We got out of the car and attempted to push it away, but there was nothing we could do in that surf and wind. We never knew what happened to that boat, but it probably was destroyed or washed into town.
We continued our journey back to Commerce Street where we stopped at the Beacon office where we checked on our friends, Jesse Dismukes and Hugh Dismukes. We delivered a canvas army cot from our store for them to use. Then, it was back to the Post Office where we dropped off Mr. Prindle so that he could ride out the storm there.
Before going back home, we went by my grandparents' house on South Bay and checked on them and my aunts. The house they lived in was directly across the street from the Pavilion and across 4th Street from the Luther Hotel. Their house stood high above the ground.
After lunch, Dad and I made another trip to check on the store. This time, we discovered that one of the doors on the corner had blown open. We pushed the door closed, but the latch would not hold against the strong wind, so we boarded it closed at the top and the bottom.
We returned home and discovered that we were locked out of the garage. We honked the horn several times until Becky and Tommy opened the garage door for us. Before we went inside, we heard a cat meowing. The noise was coming from under the hood of one of the other cars. When we raised the hood, we discovered my cat, Smokey, soaking wet and very frightened. We took him inside, dried him off, and after he had calmed down, he wanted no part of going outside.
Remaining at our home on the corner of Commerce and 1st Street, we watched as the water begin to rise around us. Water began to enter our garage, so Dad and Tommy raised the washer up and placed it upon blocks. Dad wanted a record of the water depth, so he asked me to measure and record how high the water rose. It reached 7 1/2 -inches before it started to go back down.
As we were watching the water in our garage, Tommy discovered that water was coming in under the front door. He quickly loosened the carpet and rolled it back. We mopped the floor and were able to avoid serious damage when the water level began to drop.
The electricity went out Monday afternoon, and we had to use kerosene lamps and flashlights for light. The electricity remained off at our house until Wednesday evening. At our store, it was off until Friday afternoon.
Later that evening, the four of us attempted to drive toward downtown, but we made it no further than one block, Main and 1st Street. Main Street was flooded. The town was the darkest that I had ever seen it. There were no lights except for our car's headlights. We turned around and went home. Bedtime came very soon after this. At last, the wind and the rain were easing.
Tuesday, Sept. 12 was my 10th birthday, I was supposed to have a party that afternoon, but Carla canceled it.
Tuesday morning brought an end to the rain and the wind. We saw the sun for the first time since Saturday. Destruction was everywhere. The Pavilion was wrecked. Debris from it washed toward the Luther Hotel, and luckily, the trees, bushes, and shrubs helped shield the hotel from destruction.
Downtown, there were signs of Carla's wrath. The traffic lights at 4th and Main and 5th and Main had crashed to the street and broken the lenses. I picked up red and green glass, but somehow the amber had not broken. I also found pieces of the tile siding from the Pavilion. It had the combed texture with light green and white.
Our store had water damage on the west side half of the building. There was mud on the floor, and it had to be cleaned up before it dried. We got buckets, brooms, and mops and began cleaning it up. Becky and I spent most of the day cleaning up the mud, while Tommy and Dad removed the boards from the windows so that we could get some light into the building.
On Wednesday, National Guard troops arrived and could be seen patrolling throughout the town. There were check points at all the entrances into town. Residents already in town were often asked to vouch for others wanting to return home.
Our store was open for business on Wednesday even though we did not have any electricity. We used a crank to operate the west side cash register.
Some of the most memorable sights that I saw following Carla were: jellyfish in our yard, a cow standing in Mrs. Brooking's house on 1st Street, houses sitting on Highway 35-North, and shrimp boats sitting on land across Main Street, one to two blocks away from the Turning Basin.
The experience of going through Hurricane Carla is one that my family and I can never forget. Many Palacios residents suffered great losses. We stayed in Palacios when we shouldn't have, and we were very lucky. Truly, God was with us.
Many experiences, but none compared to Carla....
By FRED DIAZ, JR.
I have been a commercial fisherman all my life and have experienced and seen many devastating occurrences. I have many stories to tell, but none compare to "surviving Hurricane Carla."
My first concern has always been my family. With Carla approaching, I sent my wife, Sadie; my sons, Fred III and Joe; and my daughter, Rosalinda, to San Antonio for their safety. I had seen many a storm and driven my shrimp boat through waves that were so high they seemed to consume your boat, and it would feel like your boat would rip apart. I have eye-witnessed men get killed by electrical storms; cabins being ripped right off the boat. I wanted my family far away from the coast.
But, my livelihood was shrimping and oystering. I stayed behind to assist in relocating vessels. They had to be moved and tied down at the St. Bernard River. The storm was ready to hit when I went home to sleep after being very exhausted.
I woke up to the sound of rushing water. The water level was rising to the windows. Our house had a clock on the wall, and it was getting water into it. I knew it was time to get and move inland. My house was close to Main Street, by the docks. I went to stay at my parents' home, at 907 Moore Street.
When I went outside, the wind was blowing really hard, about 150 miles an hour. I was not walking at a straight angle, but my body was slanted because of the wind‹ and the water was up to my chest. As I pushed on, I encountered another man and we both pushed our way through the storm. When we did see some higher ground, we spotted about 50-60 dogs, all trying to survive.
When I got to my parents' house, there were three of us in the home (my Dad, Fred Diaz, Sr., usually stayed during a hurricane, but not Carla, he fled Carla!). We would hear the howling noise of what seemed like many tornadoes going by. We knew if one hit us, our life was over. All of a sudden we heard a loud thumping noise, something banging against the house. When we looked out, it was a house! We saw many obstacles floating by.
After the storm, a truck came to take us to have a good meal at the hospital. We ate and met a couple, whom we took home with us. The wife cooked us all something to eat. I went and scooped up some water from the ditch. We boiled the water and it was my idea to also use a cloth, as a strainer, to catch the particles in the water.
It was a sight never to forget after the storm. Articles were everywhere, people's appliances scattered, homes gone from where they once were, and the shrimp boats‹ there were shrimp boats on land, behind homes, in homes, on the streets. It appeared that a tornado had picked them up and threw them down again. I had been working on a Crawford boat. It was landed near the cemetery area.
The most devastating sight was the Pavilion. The place where many Palacios residents had danced and romanced under the music of famous orchestras‹was gone! Hurricane Carla demolished it. Palacios was never the same.
After the storm, people were paid to help clean-up. While I was doing some cleaning, I found a bag full of money. I returned it to Mr. Dumas. I then worked for Ed Barrett and we used a wench truck to get some motors off the boats that had been messed up. A Crawford boat was on what is now 10th Street, and another on the cemetery grounds.
We found some of our furniture miles and miles away from our home. Appliances were scattered everywhere, shoes in the mud, irreplaceable photographs gone. Small belongings to greater belonging were taken away. I had treasured a genuine pearl I had found in Espiritu Santo Bay. It was going to be polished and given to my wife as a souvenir of my journeys and trips out in these waters‹ but Carla swept it away.
I just thank God that I, Fred Diaz, Jr., survived Hurricane Carla and God blessed me with two more sons, Mario and Larry; and the true story about Hurricane Carla is passed on to their generations.
I've never forgotten the sight that met my eyes...
By MARGARET JOHNSON
The only storm I ever ran from was Carla. I was born in Olivia in 1917. My first hurricane was in September of 1919. We had a tidal wave with it. My mother dressed my sister and I in warm coats and put us on an old iron bed that stood high off the floor. She opened the front and back doors and let the water flow through the house. When the water went down, our yard was full of dead fish.
In 1922, I moved to the Palacios area. I remember bad storms in 1933 or 34, 1942, and 1945. My family never ran.
In 1961, I was living in Palacios, in a lovely home at 809 4th Street. It was English-style, with a steep roof and gabled attic windows. I had 27 windows, many of them with 12 panes. It reminded me of an old castle.
Early in September, we began to hear of a hurricane in the Gulf. It appeared to be heading for Port Arthur. The town evacuated, but Carla never made land there. It started to move down the coast. It began to look as it would make land somewhere along the middle of the Texas coastline.
About Friday, Sept. 8, people in Palacios began to board up windows and leave town. On Saturday and Sunday there were police cars driving up and down the streets with loud speakers blaring, telling people to leave.
We picked up things in our yard that might blow around. We had too many windows to try to board them up. I didn't plan to leave, so I didn't go to the bank and get cash. I never had had any trouble cashing checks in Palacios.
My husband had other thoughts about leaving. All day Sunday he begged me to leave. I kept refusing until he threatened to have the police make me go.
By then the town looked like a ghost town. About dark we left and drove to my sister's home in Austin. We did little sleeping while in Austin. Most of the time we were listening to storm news on the radio.
About 5 a.m. Tuesday we heard the storm had left Palacios and moved inland. It was pouring down rain in Austin. We drove to Bastrop and started to look for a place to buy gas. The electricity was out. There was only one service station that had a hand pump for gasoline. Cars were lined up for blocks, waiting to get gas.
We finally got to the pump and the attendant asked if we had cash. We didn't. We were about to drive away when our 11-year-old, Galen, said he had money in his piggy bank that he had brought. That was the only time I ever robbed his bank.
We finally got to Blessing and started on home. At the intersection of Highway 35 and FM 521 the National Guard had the road blocked. My husband, Charles, was smart enough to bring along an old Civil Defense badge he had used during World War II. They let him go in. My son and I were turned back. Charles caught a ride on a truck going to Palacios.
Galen and I went back to Blessing. We first went to the VFW Hall, where they were open for storm victims, but it was already full and their plumbing was not working. We next went to the Blessing Hotel. They were full and their beds were wet.
About that time, I saw some of our neighbors from Palacios, the Winfield and Fitzmorris families, standing by the Mathis store. We joined them. They, like us, were homeless. The Winfields had been allowed to go into Palacios for one hour, to pick up Mr. Winfield's medicine. They said there were dead cows all over town, two being on our lawn.
About that time Mrs. Mathis came to our rescue. She offered to let us use the room over her store. She said the beds were wet but at least we wouldn't have to be in the street all night.
That was the worst night of my life. I knew how the homeless must feel.
The next morning as I went to the cafe that was trying to feed all these homeless people, I saw Mr. Bob Herlin. He was allowed to go back and forth between Blessing and Palacios. I asked him to notify my husband that we were in Blessing. That afternoon, Charles came and got us.
I have never forgotten the sight that met my eyes as we drove into town. Everything was brown as if it were dead. No green grass, no green trees. Many houses were off their foundations, others demolished.
We didn't have electricity into my home for three weeks because a pole went down in our alley. We could cook since we had natural gas in the kitchen. Charles had given the Red Cross all the food in our deep freeze. It was full of seafood and beef before the storm.
The tidal wave that passed over Palacios left many homes filled with mud. Our house was about 20 inches above ground, so we didn't get that water. We got plenty of rainwater, though. Water came in around the windows and wet the inside, plus a hole was knocked in the roof over the front bedroom by a tree limb.
It was hot and rained every day for three weeks after the storm. Without electricity we couldn't dry out the inside of the house. The varnished woodwork and the wallpaper all mildewed. There was no much damage in the area it was hard to collect insurance. We only were able to collect $260 for the hole in the roof. Within a year we had to put a new roof on the house and completely re-do the inside.
The street lights were all out. At night as I lay in my bed and listened to the sound of the National Guard patrolling our street, I thanked God for them. I heard of communities that didn't have their protection and the looting was terrible.
The only good that came from the storm was that it brought the community together. Those that still had a home opened them up to the homeless. I kept an elderly friend until her family from out-of-town came and cleaned the mud from inside her house.
We hope we never have another Carla that comes "a callin'."
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