Hurricane Betsy came ashore near Grand Isle, Louisiana that evening as a 40-mile wide Category 3 hurricane packing 135 MPH winds. The storm was a strange one, in that it made two complete loops, reversing itself, before turning around from aiming at the
Betsy was dubbed “Billion Dollar Betsy” for causing $1.42 billion in damages in 1965 dollars! Eight oil platforms were destroyed and 76 people died as a direct result of the storm.
Forty-two years ago, and a little more than 90 miles away, Patrolman Mushy was trying desperately to find a power line that had been reported down somewhere on the street that separated Keesler Air Base from the flight line.
“Unit Four, you havin’ any luck?” the Desk Sergeant asked.
The Ford Econoline eased along the street, its bed loaded with sand to keep it firmly on its tires. The wind howled from the Gulf side of the base and making the rain come in quick sheets across the street in front of me. The wipers did little good and the inside of the windows were fogging up from the humidity. I wiped constantly at the windshield, trying to keep a porthole size spot clear so I could see.
“Nothin’ yet, Keesler!” I yelled into the microphone trying to be heard over the sound of the wind and rain pelting the metal cab of the truck.
Every 5 minutes the Desk Sergeant would specifically ask me this question. Between times he took reports of trees down, flooding, or other power lines down somewhere on the base.
I inched along, feeling the truck rock back and forth from the 75 to 90 MHP gust, trying to see through the little hole in the windshield. The base was in complete darkness, except for my headlights and the frequent flashes of lightning.
I thought about my dad during that anxious time, because, as you may remember, he was terribly afraid of storms, and often got us all out of bed and drove around in the car until the storms passed. I wondered how he would like it if he were riding with me.
“How’bout it Unit Four?”
“Negative, I have not found any power…”
Just then, there was a loud crack, and a pop, and the night lit up behind my truck. I looked into the rear view mirror and saw another bright blue flash and a shower of sparks!
“Uh…I think I found it Keesler, it’s at the intersection of…” My voice shook and my knees seemed strangely weak. I ran over the downed power line, and it had not reared its dangerous head until after I passed over it!
“Ten-four Unit four, we’ll direct the power boys over there. Stick around and keep traffic away from that area.”
“Traffic?” I thought. I was the only fool out on a night like this!
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Hurricane Protection Program came into existence as a result of Betsy. The Corps built new levees for
For us, the wind died down shortly after midnight and the base began the process of cleaning up the mess Betsy left. We all worked a twelve-hour shift that evening, and through the morning of the 10th, and by the time I got in the rack, Boyce was there with breakfast from the “back gate” café. It had survived, as did most of the area around
Boyce and I slept like babies!