Forty-five years ago,  one of the most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history made landfall along the Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Camille was a Category Five storm when it slammed into the Mississippi coast August 18, 1969.

Until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Camille set the standard for hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Even now, Camille ranks the second strongest on record in U.S. history at the time of landfall.

The storm leveled everything in its path along the coast, killing an estimated 259 in Louisiana and Mississippi, and produced the second-highest storm surge ever measured along the Gulf Coast. The highest was 24 feet at Pass Christian, Mississippi.


What happened after Camille came inland was something of historic and epic proportions.  The storm weakened to a tropical depression and moved into the Tennessee Valley the day after landfall.

On the night of August 19, 1969, the clouds opened up and rain pounded southwest and central Virginia. The bull's-eye was right over Nelson County.

Twenty-four inches of rain fell in just one evening over the county in one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the state.

Because the hurricane was expected to quickly dissipate over land, few were prepared for the flash flooding. Only moderate showers were expected in the forecast for that evening.

Many drowned or were killed from blunt trauma during the middle of the night as water, mud and rocks rushed down the mountains into the valleys below. Homes were ripped from their foundations. Nearly every bridge in the county was destroyed. Roads and neighborhoods were unrecognizable.

Click here to see aerial video of the destruction.

The recorded fatalities was around 160 people. Some remain buried below the mud and debris and will likely never be found.


Several factors played into the historic disaster.

Even as Camille fell apart, she still contained extensive amounts of water in the clouds and the ability to pull in more from the south and off the Atlantic.

At the same time the tropical moisture moved in, a cold front was draped from Northern Virginia to the Ohio Valley. This helped to focus the moisture right over the state.

The main piece of the puzzle was the Blue Ridge mountains, which enhanced the rainfall. The "upslope" flow squeezed out drop after drop from the clouds. The rain's bull's-eye was right over Nelson County.

Whole sides of mountains turned into sheets of flowing mud and debris. According to stories passed down through the generations, the rainfall was so heavy, survivors had to cup hands around their mouth and nose in order to breathe through the downpours.