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Before Harvey, Irma, Jose, and maria, there was Carla

Monday 16 October 2017 at 11:30 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for October 12, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            As you know, some of you having experienced the terrible effects of at least one of them, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria reached a Category 3 or higher level, as they broke records for the 2017 Hurricane Season. At least for now, our last hurricane, Nate, was wimpy by comparison, but stilled caused much trouble for folks in Mississippi. Folks in East Bernard and Wharton are still working frantically to restore their homes to pre-flood condition.

            My wife and family and I were spared any property loss or water damage during these gigantic outbursts of nature, yet, like so many others, we felt the anxious waiting, the uncertainty, the fear, and empathy for others as the storms roared ashore. Shakespeare’s King Lear described a hurricane like this: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanes, spout till you have drench’d our steeples.” Now, in the aftermath, we feel the pain of our friends who experienced loss.

            But, before Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, there was Carla. In 1961. A Category 5 Hurricane. Made landfall near Port O’Connor, Texas, on September 11.

            Not only was it one of the worst hurricanes in Texas history, but also it hit shortly after I moved down to the Gulf Coast to teach school. Growing up in Dime Box and Giddings, away from the Coast, I had never experienced a hurricane before. Up to that point in my lifetime, no hurricane had ever come so far inland, and we Lee County folks were sure one never would. Or so we thought until Hurricane Carla roared inland through Lee County, still raging at 90 miles per hour, the eye passing right over Giddings.

            Some time in August, I moved down to Angleton, Texas, where I had taken a job as a high school teacher. Not long after I moved, in early September, I received that Category 5 welcome to the Gulf Coast. It was with joy and high expectations that I had moved to Angleton, just a few miles from the Gulf, anticipating balmy Gulf breezes and the smell of salt air on Surfside Beach, just several miles from where I lived. This wonderful dream of carefree weekends of sunning, fishing, and barbecuing on the beach was suddenly shattered on the second day of school when an announcement over the P.A. system described a fierce storm on its way to the Texas shore. Exact landfall was uncertain, so school was dismissed, and the high school building was turned into a refugee center at once.

            Having lived through so many hurricanes since Carla, it’s hard for me to remember how desperately scared I was as I packed up to head inland to Giddings, and safety, where my parents were living at the time. I feared that when I returned to the Coast, there would be neither school nor apartment to come back to. As I drove full speed northward to Lee County, I passed a group of teenagers with surf boards, heading for the beach and hollering, “Surf’s up!” That was not the wisest thing they ever did, but you know how kids are. After the hurricane was over, and I moved back to Angleton, those same kids were out in boats shooting water moccasins and copperheads washed up by the flooding.

            By the way, my wife who was a sophomore at Ball High School in Galveston at that time, and whom I wouldn’t meet for another seven or eight years, was a veteran at living through hurricanes on the island. While I was running away from the Gulf Coast, she was helping her mother at Red Cross shelters in Galveston.

            As I moved in with my parents for the duration of the storm, I felt smugly safe. Little did I know that this monster hurricane would take a track inland and blow its way directly through Giddings at 90 miles an hour, before the eye came over us. As my parents and I would look out the window, we could see our trees bending over and touching the ground, a sight never seen before by us Lee County folks. The rain was blowing from all directions and at all angles. Our windows weren’t made for hurricanes, and water was coming in all the windows at the window sills. My mother and I spent most of our time with mops and towels trying to soak up the water as soon as it came in.

            Our pastor, Pastor John Socha, was serving as the emergency announcer for KGID radio, and sounded as bewildered as we felt, telling us he had never seen anything like this before. When the eye passed over, we still weren’t done with the storm, because as soon it started up again, the winds were still 90 miles an hour. We ran out of towels and cloths and mop heads. For us, it was a terrible nightmare, but we suffered no damage, no major flooding and no injuries.

            When I got back to Angleton after it was all over, I shared with my students the ordeal of our 90 mile an hour winds. They laughed, and said, “You should have been here; it was a lot worse!”


Ray Spitzenberger is a free lance writer and artist who lives in East Bernard with his beautiful wife Peggy and spoiled cat Gatsby.

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