Camille survivor recalls devastation along Nelson County's Davis Creek

Published: Aug. 19, 2019 at 4:09 PM EDT
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From her living room window, Deborah Harvey can see the valley that holds Davis Creek.

She had the same vantage point 50 years ago this week, but her view from the window back then was very different.

"It's not something that people can understand who haven't lived through it," said Harvey, who was eight years old when Hurricane Camille dumped more than 27 inches of rain on Nelson County in less than eight hours in the overnight hours of August 19 and 20, 1969.

The community where Harvey lived along Davis Creek was nearly wiped away by flooding and mudslides. Her home rested safely on higher ground, but she remembers walking down to the valley below hours after the storm.

"I was in shock and amazement at what was going on," Harvey recalled.

Harvey said navigating her neighborhood immediately after the flood was nearly impossible.

"Even trying to cross a small trickle of a stream, you couldn't do that easily that morning," Harvey said. "I remember us walking up and down, trying to find a place where we could cross."

With mud and debris cutting off the roads to her home and no electricity to power radios or television sets, Harvey remembers struggling to get information from the outside world about what was happening.

"We didn't know that the entire state had not been hit like we had. Who's going to come looking for us?" Harvey recalled. "That was, as a child, probably one of the scariest thoughts. Even as an adult, that would be a scary thought."

Harvey said it took a week for her father to build a road that her family could travel in a jeep. Once she was able to get out, Harvey said the full measure of the tragedy her community suffered began to set in for her.

"You started realizing that all of these people who rode the school bus with you, went to church with you, were gone," Harvey said.

52 people died along Davis Creek during Camille's onslaught. 27 were laid to rest in the cemetery of Oak Hill Baptist Church, where Harvey's family attended services.

"(Camille) pretty much devastated the membership," Harvey said of the church. "I personally don't think the congregation has ever totally recovered."

Of the people who died along Davis Creek, 18 were members of the Huffman family. Some were never found.

"I think it's important that we remember those who were lost and commemorate their lives, and their loss of life," Harvey said.

Harvey is now president of the Nelson County Historical Society, an organization that works to preserve the Camille story for future generations and the many new people who have moved in and now call the county home.

"By understanding what a significant event that was in this county's history, and on the people who lived here, you can kind of understand the people, too," Harvey said.

People, forever changed by an overwhelming tragedy.

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