PINE BELT (WDAM) – Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Camille making landfall along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, devastating the coastline and the Pine Belt.
Camille made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane just after 11 p.m. in Pass Christian with winds of 175 mph.
Other estimates placed the winds near 190 mph with gusts of 230 mph. The exact speed will never be known since Camille destroyed all of the weather sensors along the coast at landfall.
The storm surge reached 24 feet along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which was the highest storm surge ever recorded before Katrina.
Camille is the second of only four storms to ever make landfall as a Category 5 in the United States, the others being the 1935 Labor Day hurricane in the Florida Keys, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and Hurricane Michael in 2018.
The Pine Belt was also hit hard by Camille. Columbia reported winds as high as 120 mph. The highway patrol post in Hattiesburg reported winds of 100 mph with “trees going down like matchsticks” just before 2 a.m. On the Gulf Coast, more than 143 people were killed.
While forecasting techniques in 1969 were not as advanced as they are today, they were still quite good for the time. Hurricane hunters flew into storms, and satellites had been around for about 10 years.
Unfortunately, Camille was terribly forecasted. Even as late as the early morning hours of Aug. 17, 1969, 18 hours before landfall, Camille was forecasted to make landfall near Pensacola.
Hurricane warnings were issued From Fort Walton, FL to St Marks, FL with a hurricane watch issued for the coast as far west as Biloxi late on Aug. 15.
Hurricane warnings were not issued for the Mississippi Gulf Coast until 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, 18 hours before landfall.
This warning only included areas from Biloxi eastward to St. Marks, FL. Areas from Biloxi to New Orleans were only under a hurricane watch.
At 9 a.m., 15 hours before landfall, the watch was upgraded to a hurricane warning for the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast stretching as far west as New Orleans.
Radio stations in Biloxi ramped up their coverage to frantically warn of the increasing threat.
Residents in Pass Christian and westward who listened to radio stations from New Orleans never heard the dire predictions until it was too late.
Because of this, fewer than 50 percent of the population evacuated from the Coast.
Camille weakened to a tropical storm 14 hours after making landfall. Camille then weakened to a tropical depression and moved from Kentucky through Virginia.
Even though Camille had weakened to a depression, it was still not finished. As it moved over Virginia, it dumped between 12-20 inches of rain across the state, leading to extensive flash flooding and mudslides, which killed 153 people.
In total, Camille killed 259 people and caused $1.43 billion in damage.