Nelson County community remembers victims of Hurricane Camille

Published: Aug. 19, 2019 at 12:04 PM EDT
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The Nelson community paid their respects, honoring those who lost their lives and those affected by Hurricane Camille for the 50th anniversary memorial on Sunday at Nelson County High School.

One by one, the names of over 100 people who lost their lives were read aloud at the memorial.

Beth Goodwin lived through the storm and said the prediction of the storm was not nearly as bad as the end result.

According to NOAA, the National Hurricane Center couldn't identify a surface low-pressure center once the storm passed through Mississippi, so they left forecasting to local meteorologists. But effective radar didn't yet exist in western or central Virginia, so forecasters would left unprepared for what was to come.

No flooding was recorded in Kentucky as the storm passed through, so worries eased and even the Weather Bureau called for “showers, with clearing in the morning.”

"It was just the end of the storm that had come across the Gulf and we were just going to get the remnants of it," said Goodwin. "So we went to bed that night thinking that we're going to get a storm with some rain, but there was nothing to be concerned about."

She woke up the next morning to no power, no phone service, and a few leaks around her windows. She was among the most fortunate in the area.

As night fell on August 19, remnants of Camille’s system moved into an area occupied by a large, moist maritime-tropical air mass and an existing backdoor cold front pushing the tropical depression into central Virginia. The steep ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Nelson County pushed orographic effects on the incoming cyclonic flow to amplify rain production. In addition to this, the jet streak above increased the intensity of the storm.

"We had no communication, we had no idea anything drastic had happened at that point in time," said Goodwin. "It wasn't until midday that we heard of people losing their lives and families being washed away."

She said the areas that were hit the hardest were Tyro, Massies Mill and Davis Creek.

"The land had been torn up," she said. "The land had a lot of mud and silt. You smelled the dead animals that were killed that came down the river. You smelled the earth that had been unearthed from way down deep that had never seen daylight before. All of that stuff mixed together. The smell was terrible."

It took almost a year for the county to get back to normal.

"School didn't start until October and they had to go to school every Saturday," she said. "The roads got back in fairly good shape enough for them to drive through within two to three weeks."

With the 50th anniversary on the horizon, she said it's important to remember the lives that were lost and affected by the storm.

"125 people lost their lives in the county, which was 1% of the population at the time," she said. "It left a lot of people without family and without homes."

She believes the storm made the community more grateful and appreciative for what they have.

"The main thing we learned was to take care of each other, love each other and to make sure that your neighbor is there to help you if you needed help," Goodwin said.

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