(August 16, 2005)
Hurricane Camille battered the 240,000 people living on the Coast, turned roofs into Frisbees, flattened downtowns, washed people into trees.
Amazingly, only 172 are known dead or missing from Aug. 17, 1969, but at least 10,000 more were injured.
An unnamed 1947 hurricane had provided hints, but Category 5 Camille cemented the storm nightmare. In 1969, civil defense directors ordered lawmen to evacuate low-lying areas.
Herbert Roles Jr. was 25 and a Pass Christian police captain: "I didn't figure Camille would be as bad as they were saying. You can't comprehend 200 mph winds. I was green."
But Roles followed orders: "A lot of older people were telling me they stayed there in the '47 hurricane so they'd be all right. Some evacuated; some didn't. After I finished telling people to leave, I went home and took a nap. I'd worked the night shift and the weather looked good. I needed sleep."
Soon an officer spied his car and pounded on the door. They'd been trying to raise him by radio, he told Roles, because some people still weren't evacuating: "So I went back and got some more to leave."
By then, high gusts punctuated torrential rains. Roles parked his patrol car at the station - Pass police and fire shared a building - and ran inside. He peeked out and saw his car windows blown out from flying pebbles.
"Soon it was dark. We lost radio connections. The water started coming up so fast that the guys climbed on the highest thing, the firetrucks. We could see the walls moving. I was sitting on fire hoses and water came up to me."
Just as fast, it disappeared.
"Before daybreak, two water ducks (military amphibious vehicles) appeared and we were assigned to rescue. I remember tapping the guy on the shoulder and telling him he was headed to the Gulf. He showed me his compass. I couldn't recognize we were on Second Street.
"We heard people hollering, got off to rescue them and fell into swimming pools and debris. We slipped in the mud. I was in shock myself."
Daylight came. Role's next assignment was to find more survivors, then bodies. The Pass death toll was at least 68. Coastwide infrastructure was battered with 74,000 homes and businesses badly damaged or destroyed. Camille's price tag in today's dollars is more than $11 billion.
"The morning turned beautiful again," recalled Roles, now a sergeant in the Harrison County Sheriff's Auxiliary. "You'd look up in the sky and couldn't believe what was below it. The smell was horrible.
"I blocked a lot of it out of my mind. For years I didn't talk about it much."