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Hurricane Survivors Recall Night of Horror With AM-Camille Remembered, Bjt

August 16, 1989 GMT

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) _ Mary Ann Gerlach remembers the approach of Hurricane Camille on Aug. 17, 1969, was little more than an excuse for a party at her Mississippi Gulf Coast apartment complex.

After all, she had ridden out hurricanes before and ″a hurricane party was a good time to drink and play cards under the hurricane lamps.″

But within hours the storm’s screaming 200 mph winds and wall of water claimed her husband and the two dozen people who had gathered on the third floor of the apartment complex for the party Gerlach organized.

There were many stories of personal tragedy in Camille, including Jacqueline Hines, who spent that night 20 years ago with her late husband clinging for life 30 feet up their television tower in Gulfport as giant waves reduced their home to rubble.

Gerlach said long hours at work before the storm saved her life.

″I had worked the night before so we decided to take a nap in our second- floor apartment and join the party on the third floor later. Not going up to that party is why I’m alive today.″

Within hours, Camille’s strengthening wind had blown out their apartment’s windows and water from the nearby Mississippi Sound had reached waist deep in their bedroom.

″We looked up at our ceiling and there were cracks in the walls, you knew the third floor was fixing to come down right on top of us,″ she said. ″We swam out of the window and I immediately got tangled up in telephone lines.″

Gerlach said once she had freed herself, she fought to swim away.

″It was during that time I heard my husband hollering, ‘Mary Ann, Mary Ann,’ and then I didn’t hear his voice any more. I knew he had drowned but the shock didn’t register,″ she said.

As she grabbed onto debris and fought to keep her head above water ″I looked back and I could see the apartment house. It just started sliding down into the water,″ she said. ″I will never forget seeing the hurricane lamps as they were still lit and disappearing under the water. I knew all those people inside were gone.″

Gerlach was rescued the next morning on a pile of debris. Her husband’s body was found in a tree-top 11 days later. Gerlach is now serving a life sentence for murdering a later husband.

Hines, now 79, had experienced several hurricanes during her 51 years living along the coast. She rode out a major storm in 1947 and ″I just didn’t believe Camille could be any worse than that one.″

Despite warnings from friends, the couple decided to stay to protect their home. Within a few hours it was too late to leave.

Water eventually poured into their home and they were swept outside. They clung to their 60-foot television tower, inching higher as waves broke over their heads.

″All around it looked like we were in mid-ocean - the wind was so strong I couldn’t hold my head up,″ Hines said.

The tower finally broke off, sending the couple into the water and knocking her husband unconscious. She managed to pull him to the roof of their house, ″which was floating like a barge at the back of our property.″

Hours later, the two were rescued and both were hospitalized for broken ribs and other injuries.

″The first Sunday Leon was out of the hospital he went to his Sunday school class at the First Methodist Church in Gulfport, and the class sang the hymn ‘Lord Plant My Feet on Higher Ground’ and dedicated it to him.″