Back in the Summer of '69 while america was undergoing a social revolution, Rocking the world from above (July 20) Neil Armstrong made one small step for mankind, Woodstock Festival (Aug 15-18)rocked it from NY State. But the world shook for the unfortunate residents of Nelson County. Late in the evening of August 19th while the residents of Nelson County were nestling in for a late summer night's dream, Hurricane Camille raged the gulf coast and headed north.
Hurricane Camille was only one of two Category 5 hurricanes to hit the United States in modern times (the other was the Labor Day storm which devastated the Florida Keys in 1935).
The storm was expected to quickly dissipate over land, few were prepared for the flash flooding. Arriving in Virginia on the evening of August 19, Camille was no longer a hurricane, but it carried high amounts of moisture and contained sufficient strength and low pressure to pull in additional moisture. To make things worse, the ground was already saturated from earlier storms.
Several places reportedly received over 8 inches of rain from Camille's remains, leading to significant flooding across the state. A total of 153 people lost their lives from blunt trauma sustained during mountain slides, related to the flash flooding. More than 123 of these deaths were in Nelson County. Debris avalanches occurred on hillsides with a slope greater than 35 percent. In Nelson County, the number of deaths amounted to over one percent of the county's population. The worst of the damage was reported in Massies Mill, Woods Mill, Roseland, Bryant, Tyro, Montebello, Lovingston, Norwood, Rockfish, and along the Davis and Muddy creeks. The James and Tye rivers crested well above flood stage in many areas, including a record high of 41.3 feet at Columbia, Virginia.
Hurricane Camille caused more than $140 million of damage (1969 dollars) in Virginia. Camille is considered one of the worst natural disasters in central Virginia's recorded history.
The storm dropped torrential rainfall of 12 inches to 20 inches, with a maximum of 39 inches. Most of the rainfall occurred in Virginia during a 3-5 hour period on August 19-20. Five plus inches of rain fell near the North Fork of the Tye River in only half an hour with the grounds already saturated from previous rains. Many rivers flooded across the state, with the worst being the James River in Richmond with a peak crest of 28.6 feet. Many rivers in Virginia and West Virginia set records for peak flood stages, causing numerous mudslides along mountainsides. In the mountain slopes between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, more than 26 inches of rain fell in 12 hours, but the worst was in Nelson County where 39 inches fell. Though total rainfall figures could not be accurately made due to rain guages overflowing, this is apparently the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in modern times in the United States. The amount of water which fell on Nelson County overnight was the equivalent of what the James River deposits into the Chesapeake Bay over a six month period (roughly 1.2 trillion gallons).
Mountainous areas were swept clean of trees, brush, and mud, which washed into creeks and rivers creating false dams. When the water broke free of these dams, monstrous flash flooding ensued, and since the storm's track was unpredictable, little advance notice could be given of the severity of the storm. Since it hit overnight, most residents of Nelson County were in bed. The storm knocked out all communications in the county, leaving no means of spreading any warnings to the sleeping citizens. Uprooted trees acted as battering rams, smashing into houses where the residents slept. One family whose members had built houses along Davis Creek lost 21 family members and all of their homes were destroyed. One father fleeing the deluge carrying a small child had to turn the child upside down to prevent the child from drowning from the downpour. Many survivors described the rainfall as being like walking through a waterfall. Nelson County's Sheriff at the time said that he had to cover his mouth and nose with his hand, just to be able to breathe because the rainfall was so intense. One account has it that a local family that lived on the Tye River went to bed and the river was in their front yard and when they awoke it was in their backyard.
The ensuing flash floods and mudslides killed 153 people. In Nelson County alone, 133 bridges washed out, while in some places entire communities were under water.
By the time the storm subsided in the early morning hours of August 20, 1969, entire communities in Nelson County had been destroyed. Bodies had to be plucked from trees along the banks of rivers and creeks. The mountains in Nelson County still bear the scars of the storm in the form of bald patches washed clear by the rainfall. The residents who survived the storm still look nervously outside during heavy rain. They bear their own emotional scars.
The major flooding that occurred downstream cut off all communication between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. Waynesboro on the South River saw eight feet of water downtown, and Buena Vista had more than five feet.
Throughout Virginia, Camille destroyed 313 houses, 71 trailers, and 430 farm buildings. 3,765 families were affected by the hurricane in the area, and total damage in the state amounted to $140.8 million (1969 USD, $747 million 2005 USD).
To find this letterbox; Pull into the wayside at Rt 6 along Hwy 29 in Nelson County. Check out the Historical Marker then find a slate monument to the hurricane. In the small bush in front find a camo'd bottle.