Posted on 31 August 2012
Written by Steve Knauth
On the night of Aug. 17, 1969, one of the strongest hurricanes the world has ever seen bore down on the Mississippi coast. Hurricane Camille kicked up 70-foot waves on the Gulf of Mexico after brushing by Cuba and heading west. On making landfall, winds reached an official recorded speed of 190 mph — before the recording instruments were destroyed in the onslaught. It is said to be the only confirmed Atlantic hurricane to have made landfall with wind speeds at or above this level.
Camille rolled over the low-lying, unprotected Mississippi coast, piling up a 24-foot storm surge. Boats were helpless. Hundreds of them, of all sizes, were picked up and carried with the rushing waters. The tugboat here was dropped in the streets of Gulfport, where it became a permanent landmark, the scene of countless family vacation photos and tourist snapshots over the years.
Fast forward to Aug. 29, 2005: The costliest natural disaster in U.S. annals, Hurricane Katrina, tore into the Gulf coast with 175-mph winds. Though focused on Louisiana, Katrina hit neighboring Mississippi with 120- to 135-mph winds and a record 27-foot storm surge that ran up to 12 miles inland. Waterfront hotels, barge casinos, homes and businesses — all were carried away or flattened. Again, boats were helpless, with hundreds torn from docks and moorings to be swept inland. Property damage was $108 billion. Katrina was the first and only storm to rack up damage exceeding $100 billion.
Shortly after the storm, photographer Carol Highsmith traveled to Gulfport. And there she found, intact, the S.S. Hurricane Camille — the silent survivor of two of the worst storms in American history.
This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue.