Correcting the facts and debunking the myths of Camille

The names of two elderly Biloxi women killed by Hurricane Camille are now
correctly spelled. Maude Colbet and Maris Tucei thought the sturdy wooden home at the corner of Main Street could withstand any storm.

Today, a McDonald's occupies the site.

Mary Ann Gerlach, who claimed to be the only survivor of Richelieu Apartments in Pass Christian, is wrong. Two others survived, Bryon Covington and Dr. Richard Keller. Keller, a Navy doctor who lost his wife, insists there was no legendary hurricane party there.

Histories of the Aug. 17, 1969, storm list the Mississippi Coast dead between 124 and 134. That, too, is wrong. The death toll is 172, with 131 bodies found and 41 still missing, likely washed out to sea.

The city of Biloxi published the list of victims from our three coastal counties in an attempt to correct any inaccuracies in the names of victims and missing from Camille. The effort was made in order to compile a list of names of victims to be inscribed on the Hurricane Camille Memorial Wall: "In the Garden of Remembrance."

Julia Guice has spent over a year on detective work into finding the facts about Camille, a job she began in earnest at Camille's 30th anniversary. She has combed scarce official records and obituaries and answered emotional phone calls.

The Guice name should be familiar: Julia and her husband Wade saved lives by convincing hundreds near the water to evacuate. She was Civil Defense director for Biloxi at the time, and he was director for Harrison County, where the killer hit hardest.

The beloved, cigar-chomping Wade gained national acclaim for his deeds and for the way he later educated other areas about storm preparedness.

Yet, he went to his grave believing he was a failure. No one, he lamented, should have died.

"Many on this list were warned to evacuate," Julia explains. "Some refused. Some did leave and returned. Everyone thought their houses or buildings were safe because they'd survived the last bad hurricane 22 years earlier."

The memorial, in Julia's mind, will be a constant reminder that we must heed evacuation notices, but it also pays tribute to those who died by etching their names on a granite wall with cascading water.

The memorial will be on the Biloxi beachfront grounds of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, which itself is a symbol of the storm that snatched its sanctuary but left its bell tower. Ocean Springs architect Dennis Cowart, who volunteered his designing skills, will turn the tower into a symbolic "floating miracle" by placing an apron of polished black granite around the base.

Dr. Richard Keller, a Richelieu survivor who learned about her search on the Internet, called from Maryland to correct his wife's name to "Luane." He is upset that Gerlach has sensationalized a hurricane party but is not emotionally ready to tell his story publicly.

"I have mixed emotions about this list of names," Julia admits. "It's so exciting that we are going to finally recognize the ones who died, but at the same time, hearing the stories is very depressing."

Dedication for the memorial is planned on this year's anniversary date, but fund-raisers still need $8,160 for the $110,000 memorial.