Winds Stripped Decal Off Patrol Car Door
was her name. She was ferocious, deadly and destructive, a Category
5 hurricane at one time, with 175 MPH winds. She slowly came ashore
September 11, 1961, at Port OConner along the middle Texas
Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm, with a 22-foot storm surge.
In some places that surge reached 10 miles inland and wind damage
was reported as far north as Dallas. Carla was one of the strongest
storms ever to strike the USA and remains the most powerful ever
to hit the Texas coast. At one time the storm engulfed the entire
Gulf of Mexico. Carlas devastation killed 46 people, 31
of them in Texas, and did an estimated $2.4 billion in damage.
like Freeport, Clute, Lake Jackson, and Angleton in Brazoria County
were caught by the most dangerous, heavy hitting, upper right
quadrant of the storm. Galveston was also severely damaged by
the storm surge, plus an F4 tornado ripped through its downtown
area. A great amount of Carlas extensive damage was done
well away from the landfall site. She spawned one of the largest
hurricane-related tornado outbreaks in recorded weather history.
Damage was reported as far east as the Mississippi Delta and as
the storm weakened, it dropped heavy rain across the Midwest.
me, it was the beginning of the turbulent 1960s. I worked
for ten days in the Brazosport area of Brazoria and Matagorda
Counties. I wasnt very far east of where the eye of the
storm made landfall, and I saw first hand the unthinkable destruction
of tidal waves and storm surge. Throughout all my years as a highway
patrolman, investigating many fatal car crashes and disasters,
fighting crime, vice and immorality, this storm was the most harrowing,
long lasting and unpleasant experience I have ever lived through.
I recall a few of the many eyewitness encounters I had while working
in the area prior to, during, and immediately after Carlas
arrival. This writing brings back many bad memories, perhaps being
the reason I have waited so long to write about all the catastrophic
the early 1960s, my regular job assignment as a Texas highway
patrolman was at Crosby in east Harris County. On the afternoon
of September 8, 1961, our DPS area supervisor had a surprise for
my patrol partner and me. You guys are part of the Hurricane
Carla welcoming committee. Take your state patrol car and report
for duty early tomorrow morning at the Brazoria County Courthouse
in Angleton. Another supervisor will be there. Report to him.
I dont know how long you will work there, but stay until
relieved of duty. (Hmmm. Sounded as though I was going to
miss my sons first birthday party.) We were told that a
great number of DPS patrolmen from the Houston area and across
south Texas were being sent to Brazoria and surrounding counties
in advance of the approaching storm. A mass, orderly, and supervised
evacuation of more than a half million coastal residents was to
begin the next day.
first and primary assignments were to help evacuate all the area
residents, quickly and safely, while directing the heavy flow
of traffic northward to higher ground. Gridlock became common
along the primary evacuation routes. In addition to managing the
tremendous increase of highway traffic came the job of investigating
numerous automobile accidents. It always happens during these
chaotic times of panic and heavy traffic congestion. Plus, our
constant vigil was to detect and apprehend looters trying to slip
out unnoticed with an evacuees property. Thieves, looking
for things to steal, would routinely circulate throughout the
many, soon to be vacant and deserted, residential subdivisions,
neighborhoods, businesses, and industrial parks.
we arrived in the Angleton area very early in the morning of the
ninth, the mad rush was just beginning. There had been two minor
car wrecks along Highway 288 just north of town. My partner and
I stopped long enough to investigate the wrecks and clear the
roadway to get traffic moving again. We soon observed that most
all windows, buildings, and residences throughout town were either
boarded up or taped up. Before long, radio contact with the Brazoria
County Sheriffs Office was made. The radio dispatcher told
us, Direct and expedite the flow of traffic on the streets
and highways, especially the heaviest traveled intersections.
Get all these folks out of town, and he reminded us, Yall
be especially on the alert for looter problems that could get
bad later on.
a long and tiring first day of evacuating the area, it was getting
pretty late, close to midnight. We were informed that our sleeping
quarters would be in the basement of the Brazoria County Courthouse.
Upon arriving there, badly in need of some rest, we found the
courthouse basement already filled with storm evacuees: men, women
and children. (Whoopee!) We located the accommodation coordinator,
and he was able to make adequate room for ten or twelve of us
exhausted officers in a far corner of the basement. We were given
a padded floor mat and a pillow to sleep on the concrete floor.
Not exactly the comforts of home. We had to walk through and over
a room full of evacuees, already asleep on the floor. It was there
we spent the next nine short nights getting what little rest we
were able to get. Since we all were working sixteen to eighteen
hour shifts, our rest periods were brief. Practically all officers
slept in their uniforms. Most of us became so tired and ragged
out, we could have slept almost anywhere. Some of our officers
frequently slept their rest periods in our patrol cars. Thank
heaven, I was one of the luckier ones getting to use indoor shelter
American Red Cross was a lifesaver for all the in shelter
evacuees and us. We officers greatly depended upon the Red Cross,
their volunteers and refreshment stations to provide us with sustaining
food, coffee and soft drinks at all the shelters. My hats
off to the American Red Cross, forever! All cafes and retail food
establishments had been closed, boarded up and locked down for
the evacuation. After the worst of the wind and rain passed, Red
Cross also had a great number of roadside aid stations set up
all over the area and we depended on them until the end.
after day - night after night - many officers patrolled the area
and only took shelter very briefly, as the worst part of the storm
passed. We helped move homeless people and many others without
transportation, to the shelters. And, oh how I vividly remember
sitting in my patrol car that third night when the storm actually
hit, watching a nearby industrial complex for trespassers and
looters. The wind and blowing rain was unbelievably furious and
strong. I could feel the gust rocking the car severely. Never
in my life, before or since, have I seen such enormous amounts
of wind and rain. The force was so strong it was similar to the
car being sand blasted. The next day someone said, Wheres
your decal, trooper? I then noticed the state highway patrol
decal had been blown completely off the drivers side door!
Amazing. My experience has always been that you can hardly even
scrape or chisel a decal off, let alone the wind blowing it off.
Frequently, I have had to drive those cars in excess of 120 MPH
and decals never got blown off.
through residential neighborhoods, we saw house after house completely
blown away. Street after street littered with personal effects,
clothing, furniture, pictures, large clocks, memorabilia and anything
you could think of, scattered over a wide area. At one point,
we came upon a large wooden gun cabinet full of rifles and shotguns,
burst open and scattered in the street. We braved the fierce wind
and rain, collected the guns, and took them all to the sheriffs
office for storage. As I passed down one street, I noticed this
concrete slab foundation completely bare. There were many, many
others like it. But this one had only the bathtub remaining and
only the bottom row of brick around the perimeter of the slab.
In the front yard, on the sidewalk, was a childs bicycle
still standing up on the kickstand, never even having been blown
over. Spectacular. Time after time, we observed these unusual
and bizarre situations that only occur during the most volatile
acts of nature. Things that are humanly impossible to explain.
by the thousands had surfaced upon the levees and higher ground
to escape the water. The most frequent maladies affecting Hurricane
Carla victims were injuries received seeking refuge from floodwaters
in trees infested with like-minded snakes. I remember hearing
one group of officers tell of shooting hundreds upon hundreds
of the snakes. Livestock that had been abandoned through negligence
or perhaps not enough time to move them out of the area, were
seen hanging, alive and dead, in treetops. The 22-foot tidal surge
had floated and washed large animals high enough to lodge them
in the trees. The surge had also trapped people in their attics,
on their rooftops and frequently, in their cars. Those people
had sheltered in place and refused or failed, for
some reason, to evacuate. I remember helping rescue one poverty-ridden
young lady alone with her four kids. She had only recently moved
into the area and had no radio or TV. She claimed she was completely
unaware that a vicious storm was approaching. She and the kids
were trapped on their rooftop. Many hundreds of people were rescued
by volunteers or law enforcement officers and emergency rescue
crews. Many others werent, and their corpses were later
located and removed. Early mandatory evacuation measures are credited
with greatly reducing the loss of lives.
the 13th and 14th, large numbers of residents began slowly coming
back into the area, eager to see their property damage and make
arrangements for cleanup and repair. Many of those later wished
they had not returned so soon, since they had nothing left to
return to, nowhere to go or stay. With the returning evacuees,
traffic congestion posed no problem since they returned at a trickle
compared to how they had left. No special traffic supervision
was needed for their return. On the 16th, all orders and curfews
were lifted. Residents were allowed back in the area over the
entire affected coastal region, and a mass cleanup and rebuild
of our officers began to be relieved of duty and returned home.
My partner and I remained in the storm-riddled area a while longer,
patrolling and assisting local officers. They had to secure, identify,
and tag all stolen property that had been recovered. It was case
evidence and would later be returned to the rightful owners.
the 18th we were relieved of duty in Brazoria County and allowed
to leave the savagely ravaged county behind and return home to
Crosby. That made me one very happy camper. I was
extremely glad to leave that padded mat on the concrete floor.
showed the car door, without the decal, to my wife upon arrival
back home and she was aghast. Everyone seeing it seemed totally
amazed at winds being so strong, as to strip a decal off. I later
reported it to my supervisor and within a few weeks the decal
Ray Maxie, former Texas Highway Patrolman and Special Texas
Ranger, native Texan, now retired, enjoys writing short stories
from experiences as a youth in the Ark-La-Tex area, as well as
career experiences on Texas highways.
N. Ray Maxie