Correcting the facts and debunking the myths of Camille
THE SUN HERALD 1999
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
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.