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Thursday * January 6, 2005

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Epilogue Of A Storm Named Carla

BY BERT C. WEST
Forty years ago this week (Sept. 12, 1961), Palacians who had stayed to "ride out" Hurricane Carla--either by choice, duty, getting trapped or whatever, were coming out of whatever type of shelters they had sought; and those who had evacuated to more safer havens, were making hurried plans to "get back home."

The massive, stinking, dangerous, dirty, sickening clean-up had to be done.

On Wednesday, Sept. 13, came the first overall picture. Pages 46-47 of DPS files for that day listed Palacios as "90 percent damaged, persons advised not to return because of danger from contaminated water."

Everyone returning to Palacios was required to take tetanus and typhoid shots. On Thursday, Sept. 14, a State Health Department physician in Palacios requested "soonest possible delivery" of 500 cc of typhoid vaccine, 24 hypodermic needles, two gallons of alcohol and two large rolls of absorbent cotton.

Two tank trucks of water from Houston were first to arrive. Holsum Bakery told Salvation Army officials at Palacios they could have all the bread they could use.

Three days after Carla, the Beacon was out with its regular Sept. 14 edition (just a 2-pager) with these remarks to readers:

"In true newspaper tradition, here is your weekly issue of the Palacios Beacon. Published mainly to let the world know that Palacios is still here, however, battered and torn apart at the seams.

"There is only way to go for Palacios and that is to the future. With God's help and the love of our home town--we will rebuild."

At first only bona fide residents were allowed to return--not even letting in relatives of residents. It was reported that: "Attempts to admit only men caused 'hell with the women'."

As incredible as it seemed, the Palacios area had survived the most vicious of Carla's assaults without a death.

This ended on Sept. 13 when 32-year-old Eugene Elvie Kilgore, a CP&L lineman, among CP&L employees doing double duty as they worked to repair lines and restore electric service, was killed when he stepped on a hot wire. Kilgore had worked for the utility for six years, following nine years of military service--from which he had been recalled from active duty when his two brothers were killed in the line of the duty.

Born in Palacios, Kilgore had celebrated his birthday two days before Carla hit. His funeral services were held at the Palacios Funeral Home on Sept. 15. He left his widow, Doris, and two young sons, Richard Lee, 9, and Robert Wayne, 7.

With huge assistance from the National Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, other military and agency personnel, city and county workers, the massive job of removing the dead animals, clearing the streets and hundreds of other things--excluding that residents were faced with in their homes and on their property--was in full swing.

The sound of bulldozers, tractors, wench and dump trucks, filled the air nearly around the clock--along with the smell.

Over 500 dead animals, cows, horses and dogs, were buried in the first days, and the count continued daily. County Commissioner George L. Harrison was using 11 bulldozers to bury cattle in Pct. 3, including Palacios and Collegeport areas. School Supt. Ralph Newsom said over 300 dead cows were taken from inside the city limits immediately after the storm.

County Agent Rayford Kay estimated that 3500 cows and 1500 calves had been killed by Carla in Matagorda County, with another 500 expected to die due to weaken condition and drinking salt water. Kay also estimated the agricultural damage at $5-million.

Among the first outside reporters to come to Palacios was John W. Moody of the Lufkin News. He wrote of visiting Victoria, Port Lavaca, Port O'Connor, Freeport, Texas City and Galveston. Of all the places, he said, "Even more etched in my memory is Palacios. In the back of my mind was always Palacios."

"People in Palacios are facing a challenge. The rising waters of Matagorda Bay swept through the city, making it a shambles," Moody said, adding:

"Then there are the dead cows. Hundreds were caught in the flood, to be washed ashore in Palacios. The smell is abominable. Near the airport, a round-the-clock burial of animals went on. Two drag lines were digging huge craters while trucks dumped hundreds of dead cows, horses and dogs. Stories of dead cows and where they were found are becoming a legend."

Moody also told of visiting with men working on the cow burial detail, one who had been doing it for 36 straight hours--and visiting with women as they picked through what resembled piles of junk, gathering objects.

He wrote of Mrs. E. R. Allen, "who had owned and operated the now destroyed Allen Courts since 1934, trying to retrieve unbroken figurines, which she had designed, made and sold for years, from the heap of rubble, then the smile that came to her face when I found one and handed it to her. "It's Popeye," she said, "Old Popeye"."

The Beacon's popular columnist, Lorraine Basford, said, "Five days after Carla, Tobacco Road would have resembled Millionaire's Row compared to a section of East Bayshore Drive, which ran a close second to any city dump; and even a city dump is located in one section."

Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, accompanied by Gov. Price Daniel, visited Palacios on Monday, Sept. 18--one week to the day after Carla. LBJ said the Palacios community had perhaps suffered the greatest.

Damage to the Palacios school facilities, considered the pride of the coast since major construction in 1952 and early 1953, was extensive. Hardest hit were the high school, junior high and East Side Elementary. Along with structural damage, Carla had soaked practically every piece of administrative paper possessed by the school system. Central Elementary and the Negro School escaped major harm.

Less than 30 days after Carla, classes in all schools resumed on Sept. 25, with a lot of make-shift classes and amid the noise of repair work. Students worked alongside teachers in cleaning and restoring the classrooms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and General Services Administration also played important roles in helping to get the schools up and going.

On Sept. 17, the National Guard reported (page 57 of its log for that day) it still had 662 men on duty in Carla disaster area, the most at Freeport (128) and Palacios (122). Guard units from El Campo, Gonzales and San Marcos remained in Palacios until about Sept. 21, when they were relieved by the 2nd Battle Group of the 143rd Infantry, 36th Division, of Waco. Air Force personnel from San Antonio were also here, assisting in the clean-up.

Although Palacios never got the "big play" from the major news media, TV or print, compared to far less damaged areas, reporters from Life Magazine were in Palacios during the storm, taking on the spot pictures. The New York Daily News flew its reporters and photographers here in a private seaplane. "They took enough pictures to fill a magazine." Basford wrote. "Though we might not see them (the pictures) in our day, perhaps our grandchildren will see them in some history book."

But, outside help came from many sources. The Austin Jaycees "adopted" Palacios, setting up collection boxes at Friday night high school football games. An airplane from the 514th Troop Carrier Wing, McGuire AFB, New Jersey landed at the Palacios Airport on Sept. 22, with "Cargo for Carla"-- 7200 pounds of food and clothing from the people of the Borough of Harrington Park, Bergen County, New Jersey.

Once the blockades were removed, Beacon columnist Basford wrote: "As soon as sight-seers were permitted, they came in droves! The City of Houston had nothing on the traffic that passed through here over the weekend and continues to come daily. The town has been in more pictures taken in the past two weeks than in the past 12 years."

In his book, "....and the winds blew," Harry Estill Moore said, "With the sight-seers came organized looters--operators who moved in with efficiently equipped trucks and labor to pick up valuable property scattered over the fields and streets." Moore said page 26 of DPS files for Saturday, Sept. 16, reported: "Several looters were caught in the Matagorda-Palacios area."

It was not until November that the Corps of Engineers began removing the broken concrete and twisted steel of what had been the nationally-recognized showplace of Palacios--the Pavilion. It was proposed to use the salvaged concrete for use in future seawall construction. The sound piling was to remain in place, awaiting future decisions.

Also, it was November before the Palacios Housing Emergency Commission received approval from the U.S. Office of Emergency Planning for funds to construct tents for Carla victims who needed temporary shelter. The tents were 14-feet wide by 32-feet long, on a wooden frame with wood floors. Dr. Norman Runyon was chairman of the Housing Emergency Commission, with Col. Ronald M. Harris and Garrett G. Hope as members.

The first Palacios resident to receive an SBA loan to repair her Carla-damaged home was Esther Smith.

At the Beacon's suggestion, plans were made for a Palacios Area Appreciation Day, for the purpose of the city and area citizens expressing thanks to the state and the nation for the help received in recovering from Carla. A committee, headed by the Rev. L. Winfield Wickham, pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, was formed and the event was scheduled for the afternoon of Nov. 19, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, 1961. Charles Luther was named program chairman. The mayors of 71 cities were invited.

The 100-minute appreciation program was held in the Junior High School Auditorium with over 700 in attendance. Letters were received from state governors all across the nation. Eli Mayfield served as master of ceremonies. Invocation was given by the Rev. Patrick O'Farrell of St. Anthony's Catholic Church. Mayor Marvin Curtis gave the welcoming address. Tom Anderson of Alcoa's Point Comfort Operations, spoke on behalf of industries.

Guest speakers were U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough, U.S. Congressman Clark Thompson; Col. Homer Garrison, director of the Texas Dept. of Public Safety--pinch-hitting for Gov. Price Daniel; and Major General Robert J. Fleming, Jr., of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A special guest was the mayor of Harrington Park, New Jersey, the community that had sent 7200 pounds of food and clothing.

Special recognition went to the doctors, nurses, local law enforcement officers, firemen, public utilities, National Guard, Texas Rangers, DPS troopers, Salvation Army, Red Cross and "many, many others."

The Palacios High School Band and Choral Group performed on the program, that was concluded--after a two-minute silence for Carla victims, with benediction by the Rev. Rayford Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church.

Joe Mazoch of El Campo, who spent 12 years building a nice retirement home on Bayshore Drive, only to see it go with Carla, told Beacon columnist Basford, "The next Carla better have a real Bohemian name, so that she can understand a good old-fashion Bohemian cussing!"

There will likely be future hurricanes in the area, but none will be Carla. That name has been retired into hurricane history books.



Click HERE For 1st Article In Series.

Click HERE For 2nd Article In Series.

Click HERE For 3rd Article In Series.

Click HERE For 4th Article In Series.

Click HERE For 5th Article In Series.

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