Stormy memories

I moved to New Orleans in the summer of 1965. I was 20 years old. A couple of months later, in September, I had an experience of a lifetime when Hurricane Betsy hit us head-on. Betsy was a Category 4 when it reached Louisiana, and it was a religious experience of a sort.

I was living with my parents on the top floor of a duplex in Uptown New Orleans. None of us had experienced a full-blown hurricane before. My father left his Nash Rambler parked in the driveway. Later, we found what looked like bullet holes in the car body.

Stones had blown through.

Betsy passed overhead in the dead of night. She did sound like a freight train. Trees were bent over. Electricity danced up and down along power lines. At times I crawled to a window to look outside. I could hardly believe what I saw.

In the years that have since passed, I’ve seen videos of hurricanes, but none ever came close to what blew over our house that night. They would show some flapping street signs, etc., at most.

I always supposed that the lack of accurate videos of hurricanes at their worst was due to the fact that only a lunatic would go out to film it, or even approach a window during the height of it. Well, that has changed. There are cell phones, and there are lunatics.

When a hurricane approaches, there are always people you see on the news who say, “Oh, we’ve been through hurricanes before. We’ll be staying at home, like always.” These people have experienced glancing hurricanes at best.

Just four years after Betsy, Hurricane Camille arrived a bit farther to the east, which was good for New Orleans. The west side of a hurricane is the safer side. Camille was worse than Betsy. Yet again, there were people on the news declaring their intentions to ride it out.

Camille wiped entire homes off their foundations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. People simply vanished forever. Plenty of them. The video below provides a good idea of what these things can do, especially at the 0:08 point.

You do not want to stay home.

Speaking of lunatics, here’s another video of what appears to be one of those wacky groups who drive toward tornados. Looks like they also drive into hurricanes. I hope they have life insurance.


(Aftermath: The day after Betsy landed, I was able to drive north to Baton Rouge where I moved into a LSU dorm room. Damage in Baton Rouge was far less. Like right now, power was mostly off in New Orleans, and my parents lived with that, in the dark, for more than a week.)

8 thoughts on “Stormy memories

  1. My First Hurricane was Andrew, just after moving to Boca Raton. Since then, been a number of others, like Fran, that have come through the City of Oaks, Raleigh, NC, and left it a city of saplings! Andy was a real mudder, and the rest have been extravagant displays of momma Nature’s worst hissy fits ever! Still, we’re far enough inland that the most vicious punches felt at the coast have been ameliorated by the distance, and we get naught but heavier than normal wind and rain events. Having said this, I’d rather have the occasional tantrum than California’s quakes or the twisters of the plains states!


    1. Dan: They do settle down quickly on hitting land. When I drove up to Baton Rouge the day after Betsy, I was surprised to find it relatively unscathed, and Baton Rouge is only about 80 miles farther north. Many people think New Orleans is on the coast, but it isn’t, but the land between the Gulf and New Orleans is completely flat, much of it like a swamp, so Betsy held onto her anger more than she would have over less agreeable real estate. It’s not an experience I ever want to repeat and, being where I am now, I won’t.

      As for quakes and tornados, quakes are a matter of scale. I have been through four or five here now, but they’ve been mild. And tornados don’t seem to happen here. Having one zap you directly would be worse than a hurricane, I imagine, and that’s saying something.

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      1. I’ve been unlucky enough to have experienced every major California quake from Long Beach to Northridge in LA to the Loma Prieta in SF, and every one in between. The SF shake hastened my move to Florida, where I immediately ran afoul of Andrew, and subsequent ill winds here in N.C.. I’ve actually seen three twisters and their aftermaths here in N.C. They’re naught, compared to the massive damage wrought by the floods and winds of hurricanes and quakes. You’re in a pretty safe place from mama nature’s ire there in Patz. May Lady Luck, and good sense, stay on your good side! Cheers!



        1. Dan: Jeez, man, Mother Nature has a bullseye on your backside. I’d advise you to head for the hills, but then a quake would hit the hills. I’ve never seen a real tornado, just those little twisters you see in the countryside sometimes. Plus that one hurricane, and about five or six little earthquakes here where I am now. I count myself lucky.


  2. I flew into Gulfport with a Navy assessment team the day after Camille hit the coast. The only buildings standing were of concrete/brick construction — about 80 miles of the coast was flattened for miles inland. The scene looked like photos of Hiroshima after a nuclear bomb blast (without the fires). I have since experienced and lived through seven hurricanes in the U.S. and Mexico, all of them annoying, but only one made me evacuate. That was Patricia on the Jalisco coast where I was living 20 meters from the beach and woke up to the news of “strongest cyclone winds ever recorded in the western hemisphere” — that storm went from Cat 5+ but weakened to a Cat 4 before landfall.


    1. Doug: Hurricanes are wildly unpredictable about their route at times, and the big ones should be avoided at all cost by those who live on coastlines. But you know that. You’ve been through far more of them than I have, and I will never experience one directly again except by unlikely chance on vacation somewhere. One was more than enough for me, especially that one.

      Thanks for the feedback, and come again. The moderation only happens on the first comment. If you still live on the coast, I recommend you pull up stakes and move inland where we don’t have hurricanes, and it’s nice and cool all year long.


  3. A friend of mine in San Francisco, originally from Biloxi, MS, remained traumatized by Hurricane Camile well into the ’80s, and likely well after. Of course, Biloxi was almost completely destroyed, so I guess it was well-justified PTSD.


    Kim G
    Roma Sur, CDMX
    Where there’s seldom any wind of note.


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