Yesterday’s Storms Teach Valuable Lessons Today

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX - Despite the tranquil atmosphere of the Local History/Genealogy Room on the second floor of La Retama Library, it can become stormy very quickly. The neat rows of file boxes contain a treasure trove of original newspaper clippings and photographs documenting the history of the hurricanes which made landfall in or near Corpus Christi. These include the stories of two unnamed hurricanes which struck Corpus Christi in 1916 and 1919, 1970’s legendary Celia and the equally notorious Allen in 1980.  These well-preserved documents may be a world apart from the lightning-fast images of today’s social media platforms, but the stories they tell are a sobering reminder of the effects of these harrowing storms.

While the images from the 1916 and 1919 storms are grainy, there is no mistaking the clarity of the extensive damage which leveled downtown Corpus Christi. The most memorable of these is a picture of piles of splintered wood beams strewn about neighborhood lots where houses originally stood.

Hurricane Celia’s landfall in 1970 was more well-documented, evidenced by the numerous and well-preserved copies of the Corpus Christi Caller (as it was known back then). The centerpiece of this collection is the August 3rd edition with the headline “Celia Land Strike Is Expected Today.” There is also a more extensive collection of photographs taken soon after Celia’s turbulent passage through the area. Celia caused extensive property damage and knocked out electricity service for thousands of residents.

The collection also features seldom-seen snapshots of the Bayfront after Hurricane Allen in 1980. Despite the fact the storm made direct landfall to the south in Port Mansfield, Corpus Christi weathered unusually high winds and heavy rains because of the system’s impressive size and subsequent storm surge. The slightly faded images show a more familiar section of Ocean Drive and the downtown Bayfront cluttered with storm debris and the T-heads completely submerged by the higher-than-average bay waters.

All of these photos and newspapers are just a part of an extensive and ongoing archive digitization project at La Retama Library. Managing Librarian Norma Gonzalez notes the process of preserving this part of the area’s history may be as important as it is time-consuming.

“We have over 23,000 digitized items in our special collection,” says Gonzalez. “These documents are essential to understanding how these hurricanes affected the history and development of the City of Corpus Christi.”

Learning about Corpus Christi’s hurricane history not only makes it possible to track these storms all over again, but it also offers valuable lessons on how to be better prepared for what may lie ahead this hurricane season.