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"Not a Nice Lady" August 3, 1970 - Hurricane Celia's Wrath

Of many storms that have battered Texas shores, not many hit as close to home as Hurricane Celia did in 1970. Still, now 48 years later, Celia reminds us the importance of early preparations and a plan of action. Take a trip with us back to that seemingly normal August day in Corpus Christi.

The Calm Before the Storm

On Friday, July 31, 1970 a tropical depression formed in the Caribbean with 35 mph winds. After crossing the western tip of Cuba, the disorganized depression strengthened to a tropical storm by morning. By 5:00 that afternoon, it was a hurricane.

A typical hot, humid day in August, it was business as usual in Corpus Christi. Meteorologists were confident the storm would continue to churn northwesterly before a high pressure system would nudge it east to fall near Port Lavaca.

The high pressure system ran late.

During the overnight hours on Monday, the storm continued west and was now expected to pass over the city, the Corpus Christi Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) reported.

The storm's name?

Celia.

There was an unusual departure from Corpus Christi that night. The pelicans and cranes just took off...I've never seen them leave the water like that. They all headed south. - Weather Bureau Meteorologist to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (1970)
Without the expected shift toward the upper Texas coast, the city went on alert. Evacuations were underway and the area braced for impact.

Still a highly disorganized storm, meteorologists predicted the new path would deliver a strong category 1 storm. Up to her series of tricks, Hurricane Celia defied expectations.

Until 12 hours before Celia hit land, she was a benign hurricane displaying more show than blow. Then the pressure dropped... - Dr. Robert Simpson, Director of the National Hurricane Center, to the Caller-Times (1970)

The Approach

Shortly after 4:00 that afternoon, Celia struck.

Celia made landfall as a strong Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 125 mph reported at the airport. Gusts as high as 180 mph were estimated across the Coastal Bend.

Hurricane Celia's Landfall on August 3, 1970
From Top: Celia's Track, Max Wind Speeds, Rainfall Totals, Celia's Satellite Progression (Source: National Weather Service)
The front page of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times the day after Celia made landfall. Celia claimed 15 lives. Nearly 500 others were injured.
"Her name was Celia, and on Monday, Aug 3. 1970, she changed the face of Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend." - Corpus Christi Caller-Times (1970)
Celia was unusual in many aspects. The typically weak side of the storm, the left half, caused most of the damage to Corpus Christi.

The Aftermath

Evacuated residents returned to devastation in Corpus Christi, just two days after Celia struck. The lengthy clean-up and recovery process started immediately after a storm that would not be soon forgotten.

President Richard Nixon declared seven counties as disaster areas, allowing federal relief efforts. Texas Governor Preston Smith sent National Guardsmen to assist.

That year, Celia became the costliest storm ever in the area. According to 2011 estimates, losses totaled upwards of $930 million (1970 USD) with nearly $8 million worth of lost crops.

Where Were You?

The photos below provide a glimpse into the aftermath of the storm.

Do you remember where you were during Hurricane Celia?

"Customized by Celia"

Datsun's was one of many in the area receiving custom work by the storm. Over 70 percent of residences were damaged. 252 businesses were destroyed.

Source: National Hurricane Center

Clean Up Crews

The long road to normality began right after the storm passed. Crews worked to clear the streets for returning residents.

No Storm Does More

Even the Annaville H-E-B was not safe from Celia's devastating winds.

No Block Left Untouched

Aerial view of extent of area damage.

Mobile Mobile Home

This mobile home in the Annaville area was flipped on it's top during Celia. Never stay in a mobile home during any hurricane. Always seek a more secure shelter.

Making Her Way Downtown

Celia brought debris and destruction as seen here at Upper and Lower Broadway in Downtown Corpus Christi.

All Washed Up

Boats in Celia's path were beached and beaten. 331 boats were lost.

Source: National Weather Service

Off My Lawn

Some residents took security into their own hands to prevent looters from taking whatever valuables were left.

Diverted Flights

Corpus Christi Airport hangars were destroyed. The airport clocked wind gusts of over 160 mph.

Das Not Good

Der Wienerschnitzel's (now just Wienerschnitzel) iconic A-frame drive-thru was among some buildings still recognizable from Celia.

Give Us a Brake

Sign from Brake-O toppled over on the South Side of Corpus Christi.

Power Play

Damage was extensive as Celia showed off its strength. CPL (now AEP) produced a documentary of their efforts to rebuild and bring electricity back to Corpus Christi.

Although a storm as strong as Celia has not hit Corpus Christi directly, this storm and last year's brush with Hurricane Harvey remind us that it is still important to be prepared each and every hurricane season. Don't make the mistake of getting caught in the rush at the last minute. You never know which way a storm may turn.

We will keep you informed throughout the summer on ways you can be prepared in the event of a hurricane. Everything else you need is on the City's Hurricane Preparedness website. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest tips and alerts this season.

For the latest alerts sent right to your phone or email, be sure to sign up for ReverseAlert. ReverseAlert is a free service to ensure you are always in the know when bad weather strikes.

All Information collected from the National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center, and Corpus Christi Caller-Times archives located at La Retama Public Library. Photos are from library archives unless otherwise noted.

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