The 50th anniversary of Hurricane Camille is just a few months away and with it comes remembrance, reflection, and new stories that haven’t been told before.
Barry Staton, of Rockbridge County, and his wife Mona both lived through Hurricane Camille, but saw the storm from very different points of view than those who survived the worst natural disaster to hit the area to date in Nelson County. Barry and Mona, 12 and 11 years old respectively when Hurricane Camille tore through the area in August 1969, grew up along the Maury River in Rockbridge County on the other side of the mountains.
When the Maury River began flooding its banks, both remember not knowing what was happening and not realizing the extent of the damage in their area as well as in Nelson County. Barry remembers crossing the flooding waters with a group to see the damage in Buena Vista.
“We had never seen a flood. We didn’t know what a flood was and boys of 16, 15, 13, and 12; we didn’t have any fear,” Barry said.
Mona, who hadn’t met Barry at this point, said the overflowing Maury River just missed her home. Seven individuals on her road, River View Farm Road, weren’t so lucky and died.
“I slept through it. If the water came up a few more feet, I wouldn’t be here today,” Mona said.
Now, fifty years later, Barry has independently published a 170 page book recalling his life along the Maury River, the multiple floods to hit the area, and personal stories from individuals who experienced the natural disasters. “Camille Fifty Years Later: Life Along The Maury River” recounts stories from Hurricane Camille survivors and also recalls the flooding to Rockbridge County in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
“The timing of the book is good for the 50th anniversary,” Barry said.
The book also includes three stories from Hurricane Camille he said, that have never been heard before. These unknown stories include the accounts of James Davis, who lived across from the Raines’ in Massies Mill with his young daughters and wife in 1969; Lyle Robinson, known as the "lone survivor," lost both his parents at just 15 years old; and the story of the last person who saw Barbara Hayes alive. Hayes was a 19-year-old woman who lived on the same street as Mona and drowned during Hurricane Camille.
Barry began writing the non-fiction book around football season this past fall, he and Mona recalled. An English teacher and colleague of Barry’s from the juvenile detention center where he works edited the book for him, and it was ready for publishing at the beginning of May. Barry said they spent almost every weekend in Nelson County researching and interviewing sources until the book was completed.
“I knew a lot about the Rockbridge side, but not so much about Nelson,” Barry said.
Barry said due to his experience and interest in the different flooding that affected the Rockbridge and surrounding areas, writing the book wasn’t too challenging. Barry said people were eager, and grateful, to tell their stories and discuss their experiences.
Barry said at the time of Hurricane Camille, information wasn’t as available as it is now. The only news channel Barry had access to was Channel 13 and most other information came from second or third-hand sources days later. Fifty years since, people have been telling their stories and Barry has said he’s enjoyed documenting it. Barry said the storms that caused the Maury to flood years after Hurricane Camille and subsequent floods years after caused so much damage to Buena Vista, he doesn’t think the area ever truly recovered. After documenting what he can for the public, Barry said so far the book has been well-received.
“I’ve had a lot of interest in it,” Barry said.
The book includes photos Barry took of different places in Rockbridge and Nelson now, as well as older photos from the time of the different floods.
“I hope when people hear there are warnings of high water and possible flooding, they take it seriously,” Barry said when asked what he hopes readers get from his book.
“Camille Fifty Years Later: Life Along The Maury River” is available on Amazon for purchase.