55 years ago, Hurricane Carla slammed into the Texas coast

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In 1976, Dave Ward and Ed Brandon took viewers back to 1961's Hurricane Carla during a special edition of Issues & Answers. (KTRK)

55 years ago, Hurricane Carla, one of the strongest storms of the century slammed into the Texas coast. Just how strong was Carla? The storm destroyed buildings in Galveston, and that was 120 miles from where the center of the storm made landfall. KTRK-TV was in its infancy back in 1961, but was there to record the historic event.

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Archive film of KTRK-TV coverage of Hurricane Carla, 1961



Carla's numbers are impressive. Here is an account of Carla, written by David Roth of the National Weather Service:

No history of Texas hurricanes would be complete without a thorough mention of Carla, which made landfall near Port Lavaca. Carla was among the largest hurricanes of historical record.

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Hurricane Carla remains the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Texas coast.



It stalled offshore, making a fairly large loop off Pass Cavallo, before finally striking the coast. The storm produced many tornadoes, gusts estimated to 175 mph, torrential rains, and a 22 foot storm surge at Port O'Connor. Hurricane force gusts were seen along nearly the entire coast of Texas.Winds gusted to 86 mph at Corpus Christi.



Her path of devastation inland extended from Victoria to Dallas. The death toll was limited to 34, which was attributed in part to what was the largest peace time evacuation of an area in history, up until that time. A quarter million people fled the Middle and Upper Texas coasts to move inland to safety. Evacuation was slow however; it took four hours to get from Port Arthur to Beaumont on U.S. 69. Twenty-six tornadoes were spawned, one of which tore apart 120 buildings and killed six in Galveston. Structures outside the seawall were severely damaged by the storm surge. The Ursuline Convent, which was the oldest educational institution in Galveston, was destroyed by Carla (Guthrie). Texas City saw 90% of its homes flooded. Surfside, near Freeport, saw extensive damage. The trail of destruction extended down the coast to Port Isabel,where 4-5 foot storm surges were seen. Port O'Connor was 75% wiped out. The Matagorda Island Air Force Base was almost erased from existence. Damage to the air force base was $18 million.

In Jefferson County, 180 miles from the land-falling storm, $17.5 million in damage occurred, with $14 million of it water damage. Highway 87 was totally destroyed between Sabine Pass and High Island, but later rebuilt. Three to four feet of water flooded Port Arthur. The only injuries reported there were due to snake bites. Rain totaled 19 inches at Votan. The 5.15" of rain that 50 fell in Victoria set a rainfall record for the 11th. A vast amount of coastline was inundated, which totaled 1.7 million acres. Carla's area of destruction extended well to the east into Louisiana.

Total damages were estimated at $408 million for Texas
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