Category 5: The Story of Camille Lessons Unlearned from America's Most Violent Hurricane by Ernest Zebrowski and Judith A. Howard looks at the greatest storm to strike the Gulf Coast of the United States. No, this is not a rushed book to chronicle the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, but the eerily similar story of Hurricane Camille, which also struck in the vicinity of the mouth of the Mississippi River in August 1969. The authors have subtitled their book Lessons Unlearned from America's Most Violent Hurricane for now too obvious reasons.
Hurricane Camille struck the Gulf Coast as an acknowledged Category 5 hurricane, the second Category 5 storm to strike the US mainland since adequate records have been kept. (Hurricane Andrew has also been given Category 5 status after the fact based on damage inflicted rather than measured intensity.) Its winds reached nearly 200 mile per hour winds and pushed a 28-foot storm surge onto Pass Christian and Biloxi, Mississippi.
Camille's track before and after landfall was quite different from Katrina's; however, both storms struck the LouisianaMississippi coast around the mouth of the Great River. Whereas Katrina's big story was the resultant flooding of New Orleans, Camille struck the region with an incredible storm surge and then moved on to dump massive rains further inland across Virginia. In Virginia nearly three feet (1 m) of rain in 24 hours and the resultant flash flooding took an additional 152 lives. (The accepted "official" total death toll from the storm was 335.)
Authors Zebrowski and Howard not only tell the tale of the storm and its fury but weave the story within the context of the local history of storms, politics, state's rights and, at the time, civil rights battles. Like Katrina, Camille had an understory of particularly hard impacts on the poor. The authors focus their coverage on the plights of a few individuals and families whose stories enhance, and typify, the human disaster unfolding in the three hard hit regions. The story also relates the civil defence efforts to evacuate residents in the storm's path.
The book's greatest value is the placing of the events into a view of how America responded and should respond to natural disasters. Zebrowski and Howard discuss what should have been learned from the storm, lessons that should stand out in "bold type" and "red pen" given the experiences of Katrina. It is of note that this book was scheduled for a much later release, but it publication was pushed forward in response to the Katrina disaster. Despite the short time frame, the book does include references and comments on Katrina's impact with regard to Camille, though the authors have been wise to purposely limit their analysis of the Katrina response.
I found this book a very well-written and balanced account of the storm and the circumstances surrounding it. In my view, it provides a good example of what the genre of natural disaster books should be. I think this arises from the fact that the authors have strong credentials in areas other than history. Ernest Zebrowski, PhD, a former professor at Pennsylvania State University, Duquesne University, and Southern University, authored Perils of a Restless Planet: Scientific Perspectives on Natural Disasters which was reviewed here. Judith Howard holds a PhD in social work from UCLA with further training in disaster psychology, and currently is a clinical social worker with a psychotherapy practice in Ruston, Louisiana.
I place Category 5: The Story of Camille, Lessons Unlearned from America's Most Violent Hurricane by Ernest Zebrowski and Judith A. Howard on my must read list. It has appeals on many levels but should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in emergency response to natural disasters.
Weather Doctor's Book Review: Category 5: The Story of Camille ©2005, Keith C. Heidorn. All Rights Reserved.
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