On board the Rum Runner the four men clung to lifelines in the shrieking wind and waited for the eye of the hurricane. In the calm of the eye they hoped to retie their canvas. But the eye of Camille was very small—only eight miles wide—and did not pass over them. Instead, they were beaten unremittingly by the storm.
The Rum Runner began to list, and the water started rushing out into the lake rather than in toward where the land had been. They understood that they were now catching the backside of Camille. Their canvas blew into the water and the radio and flashlight fell over as the boat tilted violently. The men prayed. "After all these years, I guess this is the end of me," thought Dussel.
As the boat lay on its side, the cabin was two feet wide, shaped like a rail. The schooner moved beneath its passengers and then settled into something solid, fixing itself into the mud beneath the water. Daylight finally began to come. It was Monday morning. The men could see that they were within two miles of Rigolets Bridge, between Unknown Pass and Blind Bayou. Camille had blown them closer to home. Remarkably, they had so far survived the trip, and the storm was receding.
The land, though, was changed. They could see bulrushes and marsh shrubs, but there was water where there had been no water the day before. A muskrat swam up and heaved itself aboard the Rum Runner. The animal lay exhausted. Dead birds and nutria floated past. The men began to be afraid of snakes. "We might be boarded by a cottonmouth next," said Honer.
The coast was awash. Buildings were flattened as if they had been bombed. Gas mains were broken, telephones were out, a levee had flooded in New Orleans. The four men worried about their families. Though it is possible to evacuate smaller towns like Gulfport, even the Civil Defense Office has given up the impossible notion of evacuating a major American city like New Orleans, with its excessive traffic and inferior public transportation.
For more than 100 miles the coast was strewn with debris. Camille moved inland, pouring heavy rains into northern Mississippi, and then turned eastward and caused severe flooding in Kentucky and Virginia as well as disastrous rains in Alabama and Florida. Ordinarily, the winds of a hurricane rapidly lose force in friction with the land, but Camille retained its muscle until it reached nearly to Jackson. The entire Mississippi coast, from Biloxi westward, swirled under 20-foot tides. Lower Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana and the 35-mile beach along the Mississippi Gold Coast were destroyed. After the revised forecast—some 12 daylight hours before the onslaught of Camille—Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes had been almost completely emptied of people, as had the beachfront areas of Mississippi and Alabama.
From Mobile to New Orleans, shrimp, oyster, frozen crab and cat-food plants were smashed at an estimated loss of $75 million. The citrus crops were gone. The National Guard had been called to duty, and martial law was declared. Many merchants raised their prices to $1 for a loaf of bread, $5 for a block of ice. There were more than 400 fire alarms in New Orleans.
Airplanes began to appear in the sky above the Rum Runner. The four men waved their orange life jackets and signaled with a bit of broken mirror. At 2:30 p.m. Monday a seaplane dipped in and plowed across the brown water.The pilot offered to take two of them out. "We've been together, we'll stay together," Charles Dussel told him. A short while later a helicopter came low over the schooner. Looking up, the men saw a message printed on a blackboard with green chalk: DO YOU NEED HELP? They laughed. The helicopter lowered a seat and winched the four up to safety. They were flown to the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital on State Street in New Orleans and were met by attendants with wheelchairs. In the hospital they ate their first meal in nearly 48 hours—watermelon, potato salad, ham, cheese, milk and coffee. Charles Dussel looked at his watch, a Gotham model that he bought in 1935. "I guess this proves it's waterproof," he said.
They telephoned their families. Frank Murray's house had four feet of water in it, and his car had been submerged. Dussel's VW bus was 100 yards offshore in Biloxi, visible at low tide. Earl Honer's car also was ruined. But the four men had courted Camille and lived. Since 1953 the Weather Bureau has designated hurricanes with girls' names, on the theory such names are shorter and more memorable than the former longitude-latitude method. After an especially ferocious hurricane the name is retired for a generation. Betsy (1965), Beulah (1967), Audrey (1957) and Camille are on the retired list now. But Camille holds a special place. Camille had the highest tides and strongest winds ever recorded in this hemisphere, and in its eye the barometer registered 26.61. The lowest pressure ever measured was 26.06 in a hurricane in the Florida Keys in 1935.
If Camille had held its course upon leaving Cuba and had continued straight to Galveston that city would have fared better than it did when the famous Galveston hurricane struck on Sept. 8,1900. There were no weather reports from ships then and, of course, no satellites, computers or radar. But there were men who observed the events of nature. Sept. 7 had been a beautiful day, with long swells breaking on the beach; however, Dr. Isaac Cline, head of the Weather Bureau in Galveston, noted that the tide kept rising despite winds blowing against it. He warned that a storm was approaching. Many did not believe him. Within hours half the population of the town drowned. Dr. Cline's own house had been built to withstand hurricane winds, but a railway trestle crashed into the house and knocked it down. Cline and his three children clung to the wreckage of the house at 28th and Avenue P all night. They found the body of Cline's wife beneath the ruins that had supported the rest of the family.