Exactly 45 years ago, the storm that would become Camille was hovering near Cuba and had just reached hurricane-force winds. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, two days later, the storm would change the lives and landscapes of the Gulf Coast for decades.
Hurricane Camille, still one of the strongest storms on record, killed more than 100 people in Mississippi and caused more than one billion dollars in damage. For years, many on the coast thought it would be "the" storm of their generation - until Hurricane Katrina rushed ashore nine years ago.
"Camille illustrates for us how we have to be in a state of constant readiness," says Vincent Creel, who's helping organize a 45-year Camille memorial in Biloxi on Sunday. "You never know when a severe, catastrophic storm is going to strike your community. This is a perfect opportunity to show people, yeah, you remember Katrina but Katrina was not the first storm. Camille, for this generation was a terrible storm, but there were storms pre-dating that, even before they had names."
Camille also gives a sense of how long it can truly take to recover from a disaster of this magnitude.
"A lot of people will tell you that Biloxi didn't recover economically from Hurricane Camille in 1969 until 1992, when casinos came along," he says. "You still saw vacants lots along the beach. We may be looking at an even longer time now, because of Hurricane Katrina, and that is because of the new building regulations that have been put into place, as well as the issues with insurance and the cost of construction and so forth."
Danny Guice, mayor of Biloxi during Camille, says he hopes people will leave Sunday's memorial with a sense of the resiliency of the Gulf Coast.
"It's great to be able to participate and talk about the past," says Guice, who is now 89 years old. "Because I'm very proud of our people and the way they responded after Camille, and then of course again, with Mayor [A.J.] Holloway after Katrina."
Memorial services will also be held Sunday in Gulfport and Pass Christian. John McCay is pastor of Handsboro First United Methodist Church in Gulfport. He'll speak at a memorial service at Evergreen Cemetery on Sunday, which has the graves of three unidentified victims of the storm - marked Hope, Charity and Faith.
"There are families out there who still haven't had closure brought from Hurricane Camille, so I think it's good that we remember and that we also celebrate how far we've come since Hurricane Camille," he says. "But to never forget and to always cherish those that we love and those we hold dear."
Memorial services will also be held Sunday at the Hurricane Camille memorials in Pass Christian and Biloxi.
Photo by Al Fred Daniel from the Mississippi Department of Archives & History's Hurricane Camille Photograph Collection.