Pass Christian was "ground zero" during Camille

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - On the 40th anniversary of Hurricane Camille, services were held across the coast to remember the victims of that horrendous storm.

Pass Christian has always been considered Camille's ground zero.  That community got pulverized in 1969 by 200 plus mile per hour winds.  Four decades after that unforgettable disaster, people gathered at War Memorial Park to remember their fallen neighbors.

One of the organizers of the Pass Christian commemoration was Billy Bourdin.

"One thing I definitely remember is that damn wind," he said, referring back to what it was like on August 17, 1969.

That sound of ferocious winds battering buildings in Pass Christian has stuck with Bourdin for 40 years.

"The only thing we could hear over the damn wind was the tornadoes passing on both sides of us," he said.

Bourdin was a Pass Christian volunteer fireman in 1969.  While Camille had set its sights on the Pass, violently tearing apart the community, Bourdin desperately tried to rescue anybody he could get to.

"We were out there in that 200 mph wind pulling people," he said, noting that by wading out in waist deep water, he was able to remain upright.  "That wind was whipping brother."

Chipper McDermott was 20-years-old when Camille hit.

"That was a rough time," the mayor recalled.

Pass Christian hosted a lunchtime ceremony at War Memorial Park to commemorate the anniversary of Hurricane Camille.

"It did destruction like we had never seen," McDermott said.  "The only thing good I can say about Hurricane Camille, it stopped the old timers from talking about the '47 hurricane, I can tell you that.  But then along came Katrina, and kind of stopped us talking about Camille."

A dozen white roses were placed in front of a stone monument that lists the 78 Pass Christian residents who died during the 1969 hurricane.

Thirteen of those names are all related.  They're family members of Lawrence Williams.

While he was at a St. Paul shelter in 1969, his family stayed at Trinity Episcopal Church.  The church got pummeled, and all of Williams relatives died.

"I'm going to put this flower right here," Williams said, placing a single red rose at the base of the marker.  "I'm being here for my family at this hour, at this time."

Williams left the park about 15 minutes before the commemoration began, wanting to avoid others who could have rekindled the pain from his past.

Even four decades later, Camille stirs up memories that tug at the hearts of Pass Christian residents.

"That was a day we will never forget," the mayor said.  "It's hard to believe it was 40 years ago."

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