Why I Sent the Check
Portland, Texas, (a bedroom community of Corpus Christi) August 2nd, 1970
7:00 A. M.
“Hey, Vertis, there’s a tropical storm in the Gulf, and they have just named it Celia…looks like it’s heading this way.”
“How strong is it?”
“Well, it’s getting close to seventy-five miles an hour, which will make it a hurricane.”
“Do you think we should leave? Maybe drive up to San Antonio?”
“No, I don’t think so. Right now the forecasters are saying it might even weaken by the time it hits the coast, and be nothing more than a good rain. I’m going on to work, but I’ll plot up the co-ordinates and let you know what it looks like at noon.”
Noon, August 2nd
“Well, it looks about the same as this morning, and the track is still heading our way.”
“Richard, we have two babies to think about. Are you sure we shouldn’t leave?”
“No, I’m not, but let’s wait until tonight to decide.”
7:00 P. M., August 2nd
“I have some good news and maybe a little bad news.”
“The National Hurricane Center says the storm is likely to weaken until it is barely a hurricane. That’s the good news, and the bad news is that we’re right in the projected path.”
“Richard, trying to get these babies in the car and go anywhere is next to impossible. If the storm is just seventy-five mile per hour, it won’t be a big deal, and we sure could use a little rain.”
“Yeah, I’ve talked with Reinemunds and they’re staying, and everybody in the Six Hundred Building downtown said they were staying, so let’s just put the kids to bed and see what happens tomorrow.
9:00 A. M. August 3rd
“Richard, they’re saying Celia may be strengthening in the warm water near-shore, and the first strong winds are going to start by noon.”
“Gosh, that’s only three hours away. I’m going to put up anything that could blow around and shut the garage doors. It’s too late to leave now. We’re just going to ride this one out. Maybe it will weaken by the time it crosses Padre Island.”
Noon, August 3rd
“Richard! I just saw a swing set blowing down the street! I wonder how strong the winds are?”
“I don’t know, but let’s get ready to put the kids in the bathroom, if the wind gets any stronger. I think that room in the most enclosed room in the house, and the kids can get in the tub. We’ll put some blankets in there with them Oh yeah, they said to run some water in a big bucket or something in case we lose water service.”
2:00 P. M. August 3rd
“Richard, I just saw pieces of somebodies roof blowing down the street and look! There’s a whole roof! Something just hit our roof, and the house is shaking! Oh, my God! We’re going to lose our roof!”
“Get the kids and let’s get in the bathroom! Hurry! Our roof is about to go…Damn! Something just hit our roof! Oh, my God! Both of our neighbors roof are ripping off!”
“Richard, I’m so scared, and I feel so bad that we didn’t take our kids to San Antonio! What if something happens to them? I’ll never forgive myself!”
“Vertis, the house is shaking and I think our roof is about to go! Get the kids in the bathtub and cover them with those blankets and then lie down beside the tub! Tell the kids not to move! I’ll lie down against you…and say a little prayer.”
An hour later:
“Richard, the wind is dying down! Maybe it’s over!”
“Stay, here Vertis, and I’ll take a look out the front door!”
“Come here; you won’t believe this! The radio says the eye of the storm is over Portland! The wind has completely quit blowing, and I can see blue sky.”
We’re in the front yard now, and my mouth drops open when I see the devastation on our street. House after house has been ripped apart, and out two neighbors on either side of us who had two story house have lost their entire roofs.
“Vertis, I’m going to drive down the street and see about Bill Floyd. Their house is right on Corpus Christi Bay.”
“My God,” I mutter minutes later, as I view just a few walls that are still standing including the front door. As I pull up the front door opens and Bill runs out.
“Richard, I’ve been holding my front door shut to keep it from blowing off its hinges!”
“Get in the car, Bill. It’s half time and that black wall of clouds out in the bay is heading for us! Our house is still standing.”
We’re back at my house now, and just minutes later the wind, which was out of the north during the first part of the storm is back and it’s out of the south. Bill is exhausted and collapses on the couch as we watch the wind pick up, and soon it is at full hurricane strength. Vertis is keeping the kids in the bathroom, but Bill and I are peaking out watching the storm, and we watch the debris from the first part of the storm is blowing back up the street along with anything else that wasn’t nailed down.
It has been another hellacious hour, but the wind has now slacked off to I would estimate less than 50 MPH, and is continuing to drop. Our best friends, the Reinemunds, live a few blocks up the street and on a street where the storm winds blew directly straight at their house. It takes a few minutes to dodge the debris, but when we turned the corner where we could see their house, our hearts dropped. The house is just a pile of collapsed walls and rubble. Vertis bursts out crying, and I drop my head thinking the family is either severely injured or dead. But a minor miracle has occurred—George, Marilyn, and their two girls just ran out from a neighbor’s house across the street. In the first part of the storm, as their roof went flying off George put Marilyn and the girls in the kitchen against the island, and when the wall fell it left them in a small space uninjured
7:00 P. M. August 3rd.
At last count there are 23 people in our living room and kitchen to spend the night with us. We have no electricity, water, or gas. It will be a week before we have water and gas, and 30 days before the lights go on again.
9:00 A. M. August 4th.
We’ve taken a drive through town and when we turned into the First Baptist Church parking lot tears streamed down our faces. Two weeks before the property committee, of which I was a member, had been disbanded and we had dedicated a new 600 seat auditorium. Celia’s winds had ripped off the huge roof, which we never saw again, and both side walls had collapsed on the pews. Only the foyer and baptistery remained.
August 5th, 10:00 A. M.
We’re back at the church now, and our pastor as just accepted a check from our insurance company for the full amount of coverage, and our building committee has been reformed. After helping to salvage a few items from the church, we’re resting when a large semi-trailer truck pulls up into the parking lot. In big letters it says, The Baptism Men of Texas Disaster Team. In minutes the truck’s rear doors are opened and hundreds of cases of water and ice are handed out to us. It was such an emotional experience that there were few dry eyes as we hauled away what to us was precious water and ice.
It’s noon now and we join our friends the Reinemunds for lunch. We’re standing in line to receive it from a Texas National Guard unit, and I will never forget that moment when a guardsmen handed me my lunch.
That’s why I mailed the check.
Celia’s sustained winds were clocked at 130 MPH with gust to 180 MPH.