It’s been 50 years since Hurricane Camille shocked the nation – killing 150 people on the Gulf Coast and an equal number here in Virginia. That category five storm smashed into the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana, then headed north to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
As the sun came up over Lovingston, Virginia, residents discovered a landscape of loss. Audrey Diane Evans and her family had no idea how lucky they were after the previous night’s storm.
“My parents were griping because there was a foot of water in the basement," she recalls. "My father and I went down to the local store, and down below our house these holes started appearing in the road, and we got a little further down, and part of the road had disappeared. We got to the nearest neighbor at that time, and her daughter and son-in-law lived in Massie’s Mill. They had come to her house and told her what had happened in Massie’s Mill – weird things like houses run together in the middle of the road, a cow stuck under a house, a car stuck under a house.”
Unable to believe what they were hearing, Diane and her dad pressed on.
“My father and I walked down the highway and saw this field with cars and refrigerators and home parts, and people were wandering around like something out of Dawn of the Dead. It was a mind-boggler.”
14-year-old Warren Raines and his 16-year-old brother Carl had tried to escape rising floodwaters at around 2 a.m. They piled into the family station wagon with their parents, three siblings and four of the neighbors’ children, but the car stalled, and they were swept away.
“If we would have stayed in the upstairs of our homeplace, we would have all been okay," he laments. " We’d have been really frightened I’m sure. On the 21st they found my father, younger brother and older sister. They found my mother just in time for us to have a funeral on the 27th. It was two weeks later they found my younger sister. The other four of our neighbors, two of them made it along with my brother and I, and they never have to this day found their sister or younger brother.”
Friends of the family took the boys in, and after a year at Staunton Military Academy, Warren moved back into the family’s home, where he lived by himself during his senior year of high school.
“It made me tough," Raines concludes. "I went from childhood to adult you might say, all in one night.”
Over the next few months, residents, the federal and state governments, the Menonites, Salvation Army and many other charities pitched in to clear the roads, restore communication, clean up and rebuild.
“And the schools were utilized to a great extent," recalled retired superintendent Henry Conner. "They had food and furniture, and the high school was like a little Pentagon, because the National Guard was there.”
“My classroom was stacked to the ceiling with boxes of clothing,” says former teacher Emily Moxley.
“Somebody said we had enough suits for every male in the county,” retired principal Ed Rothgeb told us.
On September 29th, schools re-opened, and Superintendent Conner insisted the band rehearse, and the football team practice.
“Because you’ve got to get people’s minds off of the tragedy. You’ve got to give them hope.”
Since we spoke with them in 2009, Conner, Bernard McGinnis, Cliff Wood and Ed Rothgeb have passed away. We thank their families along with Warren Raines, Audrey Diane Evans, Walter Scott Evans and Emily Moxley for sharing their stories. In our next report, we learn what modern day meteorologists have discovered about the storm and whether it could happen again.