Harvey is now a Category 4 storm," the TV announcer said with all
due gravity as the rain and screaming winds began battering Rockport.
Just to make sure her viewers understood the significance of her
pronouncement, she added, "No one under 56 has ever seen a storm
like this in Texas!"
That's because the last Category 4 hurricane to hit this state was
Carla, which struck the Texas coast on Sept. 11, 1961. With 145-mile-an-
hour wind and higher gusts, the hurricane obliterated Port
O'Connor and Port
Lavaca while heavily damaging Galveston
and other communities. The storm killed 46 people and caused multiple
millions in damage.
Since most people's permanent memory doesn't kick in until they're
around four years old, you'd actually have to be 60-plus to recall
Carla. If you do qualify age-wise, and you were in Texas back then,
you remember Carla.
One of many Texans who won't be forgetting the devastating storm
is Beverly Waak of Wimberley.
As a seventh grader, she rode out the storm with her family in Baytown.
For them, however, the hurricane was only one of two crisis situations
Not only was a giant tropical cyclone churning toward the Galveston-Houston
area, Beverly's father George Murray, who worked at Sheffield Steel
on the Houston ship channel,
lay in Baytown Hospital following a heart attack.
"The first thing I remember is my mother talking about the hurricane
after she heard about it on TV," Beverly said. "Her sister, who
lived in Elkhart,
[a small town near Palestine
in East Texas] called
and wanted us to come up there."
"Mama said she'd do that if daddy got released from the hospital
before the storm hit," she said. But his doctor said Murray wasn't
stable enough yet.
So, with nine-year-old Dale, 11-year-old Beverly, and 15-year-old
Ann, Mrs. Annie Daniels Murray would be facing the storm alone.
"Mama was not going to leave with my daddy in the hospital, so somehow
she found out that one of the big churches had been turned into
a shelter," Beverly said. "She took us there so we would be close
to the hospital."
The family lived in a three-bedroom, pier-on-beam frame house on
five acres on Baytown's
west side. They had an assortment of animals, a barn and a small
apartment behind the house. Across from their place on Decker Street
was the Decker Twin Drive-In.
"We packed clothes, blankets and pillows and went to the shelter,"
Beverly said. "They had cots set up in a large open room. There
were a lot of people, maybe up to a hundred."
As the storm progressed from light showers to torrential rain, and
from blustery to shrieking wind, the mood inside the shelter grew
tense because no one knew what to expect. The family played cards
to pass the time.
"During the night we heard the roar of the wind and the rain," Beverly
said. "We were kind of in a back corner, away from windows. People
were pretty quiet."
Not only was Mrs. Murray worried about her husband, her brother
Rubert Daniels was in the evacuated city of Galveston.
A Houston-based PBX (telephone
switchboard) repairman for Southwestern Bell, he had driven across
the causeway toward the island community and the coming storm while
bumper-to-bumper traffic jammed the bridge headed the other direction.
"I know we spent at least one night in the shelter," Beverly said.
"About 11 a.m., it was still very dark outside. And then the eye
of the storm passed over and it became a lighter brighter. Mother
needed something out of the car and sent my sister to get it. I
went with her, but she made me stand inside the door."
Despite her big sister's order, Beverly stepped outside. What she
saw was like nothing she'd viewed before.
"I remember just being stunned at the stillness," she said. "It
was like there was electricity in the air. I was awestruck."
Later that day, after the second half of the hurricane passed, Mrs.
Murray took her family home. Their house had some minor roof damage,
but was still livable even if they had to put pots and pans on the
floor to catch leaking water.
"Mama wouldn't let us see it, but she told us that a piece of sheet
metal had blown off our barn and cut the head off one of our sheep,"
Beverly said. The family's other animals, a couple of horses, a
donkey, a Brahma bull, rabbits, chickens and turkeys, all came through
Mrs. Murray later learned that her brother had ridden out Carla
in the Galvez Hotel. The 1911-vintage structure swayed so much that
water sloshed up from the toilets, he told her. The wind ripped
up telephone poles along Seawall Boulevard and spun them end-over-end
above the seven-story hotel.
Back in Baytown,
Murray got discharged from the hospital soon after the storm.
"Some of our friends, people we went to church with, had their homes
flooded or destroyed," Beverly said. "Daddy probably shouldn't have,
but he and Mama went to help them clean up. I remember they had
to get typhoid shots first."
Their friends lived in the Brownwood subdivision on nearby Crystal
Bay. The middle class neighborhood never fully recovered from Carla,
and due to coastal subsidence caused by a drastically dropping water
table, was abandoned in the 1980s. Today's it a wildlife area.
"I don't think it was too long after the hurricane before we went
back to school," Beverly said. "My homeroom teacher, Mrs. Higby,
had us write down our experiences. I think my story came out in
My Weekly Reader, but I never got a copy."
"Texas Tales" August
30, 2017 column