Standing Room Only For 40 Year Anniversary Of Hurricane Camille : 8.21.09

Photos By Paul Purpura : ©2009 : The audience spilled onto the stage, and adjoining rooms to accommodate the crowds at the 40 Year Anniversary Presentation On Hurricane Camille.
Photos By Paul Purpura : ©2009 : The audience spilled onto the stage, and adjoining rooms to accommodate the crowds at the 40 Year Anniversary Presentation On Hurricane Camille.

Nelson County, Virginia

There wasn’t a single seat left to to sit in, or corner left to stand in at Thursday night’s remembrance of the 40 year anniversary of Hurricane Camille held at Nelson County High School. A slide presentation was followed by a program including music, recognition of the Nelson County flood victims, and personal survival stories

People that could not fit into the auditorium filled seats in the nearby cafeteria.
People that could not fit into the auditorium filled seats in the nearby cafeteria.
Others sat on the stage behind the speakers to be able to listen. Numerous people were turned away from the Thursday night program because every seat and corner possible had been taken.
Others sat on the stage behind the speakers to be able to listen. Numerous people were turned away from the Thursday night program because every seat and corner possible had been taken.

Folks attending Thursday night’s program got the chance to talk one on one with the participants after the presentation.

Woody Greenberg has written an excellent piece on Camille here.


  1. August 19, 1969

    My story, on paper, in summary, as I remember August 19, 1969
    Adorable, is the only single word I have ever been able to come up with to describe the 14-year old, blue eyed, brown haired angel who asked to sit down next to me on the after- school bus on August 19, 1969.

    It was that time of year, back to school activities which were starting late evening so everyone could work during the day, picking apples, helping on family farms and in the evening attending football, band and cheerleading practice. I was a rising freshman and so was she. We had been thrown together the year before from the various elementary schools for what was to be our first and only year at junior high. 1968 was the first year of segregated schools in Nelson County, VA and we were all new at being teens, getting to know our new schoolmates as they had been our competition from the schools of Rockfish, Fleetwood, Lovingston (I was a Lovingston kid, she a Fleetwood) Schuyler, (Gladstone – had been sent to Lovingston a few years before), and Ryan Elementary all together for the first time.

    Band practice began that Tuesday evening, with the Reverend Vernon Lewis as our great leader. As we had the day before, we were outside marching around the front of the high school. We could see the large clouds hanging in great clusters over the mountains around us. At dusky dark we came in when the rains began. When we loaded onto the buses to go home around 8:30 PM it was raining and pitch black. At one point in the road where the old Roseland post office was and Mr. Bland Harvey lived, I noticed we were running over what may have been small tree limbs. You could tell it was something but could see nothing in the blackness. I felt very safe with our driver, Mr. Parrish Strickland. He had been at this bus-driving thing a long time, according to Mr. Byron Bradley of Bradley’s Store, (plus he had this really cool hat and seemed to be a very calm, cool individual, much like my own Dad). My family had moved to Tyro the first of August and like the astronauts in space, we were just getting our bearings and depended on Mr. Bradley to help know who was who. Mr. Bradley assigned kids to “watch out” for me as the new kid on the block (moon). I, of course at 14, did not think I needed help getting on the right bus and home, being a life-long (all of 14 years) resident of Nelson County.

    Patricia Ann Bryant was worried. She asked to sit beside me on the way home and I was honored, I had not had a chance in the past year to get to know her very well. She knew her Mom was coming to meet the bus and did not want her out in the blinding rain and repeatedly said so. I often wondered how or if she knew for sure who was coming Mom or Dad. The bus only ran one route and her home was on a hill in Bryant, VA off Hat Creek, some 3-4 miles from her friend Joyce Harvey’s driveway, where her parents were to meet the bus. She kept saying she wished her Mom did not have to come out in the horrible rain and storm. I was not real concerned at the time, but listened; my Dad was coming to pick me up.

    There were a few other teens on the bus. Audrey Zirkle, was not. She was a close friend of the pretty little blonde cheerleader named Barbara Jordan who was on the bus that night and sitting near the front. Mr. Bradley had asked Audrey to watch out for me and I was a little embarrassed that he had, as she was a beautiful, popular, upper classman and band member. I had not met her friend Barbara before.

    Patricia got off the bus and I could just barely make out headlights of the car across the road from the river there to pick her up. Next the little blond, Barbara, got off at the Tea Room Store in Tyro and the blackness swallowed her up. I could not see where she went. I recently, in 2007, asked her, now one of my dear friends, where she went. She had stayed near the store with her sister as they were cut off from everywhere for days. She remembered that her Mom thought she had perished (at that time Audrey was still missing) and she remembered all the fish and animals that were lying around. Audrey, her mom, dad and younger brother perished that night. Audrey’s younger sister was rescued in the early morning light. Barbara was devastated with the loss of her friend.

    I was next; Mr. Bradley was standing at the foot of the bus steps and grabbed me and wrapped one of his son Bill’s rubber raincoats around me, as I only had on a windbreaker, and we headed for the store porch. A guppy would have had a better chance of getting a breath of air as I did. The rain was SO hard you could not get a good breath of air. Mr. Bradley was yelling in my ear, to be heard over the rain, that he could see my Dad making his way off Silver Creek in the truck. I looked and it was suddenly like daylight. The lightning seemed to be rolling on the ground. You could see pretty well through the pouring rain. Mr. B. got me safely into the truck with my Dad and we made our way back onto Silver Creek and over a bridge to the house. My black cat had disappeared when we moved in two weeks before and all my other cats had died when we moved into that house. He was hanging onto the kitchen screen, soaking wet and meowing for dear life when I got home and let him in. (Strange the small things you remember).

    At this point the noise level was off the scale in my book. It was around 10 PM and the rain, thunder and boulders moving in the creek were deafening. There is no description for this sound. I went to bed and tried to cover my ears with my pillow. I kept wondering if Audrey had gotten home yet.

    The next morning was a beautiful with no humidity – a summer day. The sounds were rushing water and boulders slamming together. We made our way out to the creek and the place where the bridge had been. Mr. Campbell, who also worked for Silver Creek Orchards, yelled at us that Bill (Flippin) and some of the local men had gone and taken canoes to Massie’s Mill, as it seemed to be missing, to look for people. We wondered how that could be. Up the road, Audrey’s sister Debbie had been rescued and had broken an arm, but there was no sign of Audrey, nor her parents and brother.

    Mr. Bradley had stayed up all night watching his neighbors, some in cars, and their homes float in front or behind his home and store. No one ever gets over this.

    The following morning, day two, we made our way to Bradley’s Store and the pavement was rolled up into large bales, like you see now days in hay fields. You could not go anywhere above the store or below that did not look like the Grand Canyon. But there stood some people from the Salvation Army in front of Silver Creek Packing Shed, with backpacks of food and tents. They had hiked in past Massie’s Mill and could go no further. This is where the helicopter had already begun landing for its many trips in and out of the area. (In seven days, bulldozers had restored drivable connectors for vehicle traffic, power lines lay on the ground and some facsimile of “normal” came with ALL of the traffic, “sightseers”.) My family and Bill Flippin’s opened the Sliver Creek packing shed and began to sell apples as you could not ship them out over those roads and without electricity packing had been stopped. They had also suffered the loss of many of their friends and neighbors who helped each year with apple packing. This would be the beginning of many Apple Days” there in Tyro.

    The following day, word was coming in from all over the county about areas that were “gone” and many, many people. The “Tinker” Bryant family was mentioned. Her Dad had barely survived, but her Mom, Patricia and her sisters, Margaret and Frances were gone. How could that be? They lived on a hill! Patricia’s Dad and two other sisters that were at college survived so we would all remember those sweet girls and their Mom.

    To this day, while I am driving the very beautiful, green corridors of Nelson, in my mind I can see the scars, now healed on all of the “Horseshoe” mountain range on the 151 and 29 sides. Devastating mud slides in Davis Creek, Lovingston, Roseland, Bryant, in the middle of now Winterhaven near Beech Grove, and many other areas.

    Thanks to Warren & Carl Raines, Teresa Wood and others, many of the stories have been told, the rains have been documented, the time lines established and many pictures published. The early book called The Torn Land by Jerry Jr. and Paige Simpson told many stories, but hopefully in time, the many others will be put to paper or voice recorded. If you would like to have your story written or told, please tell a friend or family member who will write it down or record it. It may still be too soon for some of you, sometimes 39 years seems like yesterday. But there are so very many stories I have never seen in print. This is our history, as tragic as it was, there were all of the incredible volunteers, the Mennonites, the Salvation Army, the many former military Nelsonions, i.e. Mr. Cliff Wood, Walter Hoffman, Henry Conner, Mac Drumheller, Eddie Rothgeb, Dan Payne, Hughes Swain and many others, Ivanhoe Stevens, Russ Ingersoll, Sheriff Whitehead, Sam Eggleston, Dr. James Gamble, Dr. Criswell, the Rev. Vernon Lewis, all showed the true meaning of living in a rural community, banding together and surviving the worst possible disaster. Their stories are incredible to this day and it was their strength that got us through those early days of devastation.

    Although one of the greatest quotes came from our own Judge Robert Goad’s report to the U. S. Senate Subcommittee, “The trouble with the Office of Emergency Preparedness is that it is not prepared for an emergency”. Even though then Virginia’s Governor Mills E. Godwin Jr. with top aids, including General Denniston were deeply affected by our plight, no one could imagine the loss of life to that magnitude and the incredible mountains of debris and total loss of infrastructure. Every resource back then was made available but remember communication was very different 40 years ago and much slower.

    Nelson County is now known as the first 911 system anywhere and has continued monitoring of rain levels at all times.

    Jonesboro Cemetery and Oak Hill near Davis Creek also Green Acres in Lovingston where the graves are in rows of families will remind us all for generations to come of that fateful night when our world changed forever.

    Theresa Dale Stevens Harris
    249 Moses Hughes Lane, Roseland, VA 22967
    Novice Historian, Southern Rockfish Valley, 2009

  2. Thanks to eveyone with the Historical Society, Oakland Museum and the presenters of last night’s memorial. I was in the “overflow” crowd and everyone was able to see and hear what was going on and made to feel part of the program.

  3. On behalf of Oakland – The Nelson County Museum of History, I want to say thank you to the more-than-1,000 people who came to Nelson County High School Thursday to remember those who lost their lives during Camille and to honor those who helped during the crisis. I also want to apologize to anyone who couldn’t get into the auditorium or cafeteria-lobby. In our wildest dreams we did not expect such a huge turn-out, but it is a testament to the kind of community Nelson County is. In a few weels we expect to have a DVD of the event available at Oakland. Our phones at Oakland went out on Wednesday and service was not restored by Verizon until Friday so to all who left messages at the museum, we’re sorry we didn’t get back to you. Thanks also to the media, and especially Nelson County Life, for the support in getting the word out and helping us to remember those who suffered through Camille.
    Woody Greenberg, Vice Preident, Oakland Museum


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here