The Nelson County Historical Society will commemorate the 48th anniversary of Hurricane Camille’s devastating impact on Nelson County Saturday with a presentation honoring two local officials who responded in the aftermath of the storm and two new video programs.
Special recognition will be given to then-Sheriff Bill Whitehead and then-Supervisor Cliff Wood, who each played major roles in county’s recovery following the August 1969 flood. Wood and Whitehead were dedicated members of the historical society.
In Nelson County, 124 were killed as a result of Camille, according to the historical society.
Wood, a farmer and native of Wingina, died last September at age 89. He served as civil defense director in the aftermath of the tragedy, overseeing rescue and recovery efforts.
“I’m used to floods,” Wood said in a 2006 interview with the Nelson County Times. “You get out of the way and let it do its thing. But there was no warning [for Camille]…”
After heavy rains destroyed parts of the county when Camille came, Wood said in the 2006 interview he was able to get to Lovingston while other county officials were cut off. For a day or two, he didn’t know if they were alive. He put in long hours the following days, spending nights at the sheriff’s office and sleeping on floors and vans off the road.
Whitehead, who took office as sheriff in 1960, also made a tireless effort during the recovery period and helped with evacuations. He died in May 2005 at age 79.
His son, Dick Whitehead, of the Jonesboro area of Nelson County, recalled waking up around 2:30 a.m. the morning after Camille hit and his father immediately struggling trying to make contact with other law enforcement through radio. Bill Whitehead got through to the Augusta County sheriff, who provided a helicopter that Whitehead used for the next few days in working to help the community, Dick Whitehead said.
From searching for missing neighbors to helping a pregnant woman get to Lynchburg via helicopter, Dick Whitehead said his father was involved in helping the injured and recovering bodies, a difficult task given the familiarity of the faces.
“He was a person who knew a lot of people in the county,” Dick Whitehead said. “He did what he could to help them.”
He said he remembers his dad coming home late at night at that time being “awestruck” at the magnitude of the situation.
“It’s draining to be involved in that,” he recalled. “It takes somebody to really push hard day in and day out.”
Also at Saturday’s program held at Nelson United Methodist Church on U.S. 29 three miles south of Lovingston from 1 to 2:30 p.m., two video presentations will be shown on the local response to the flood by local officials and a small group, including Dick Whitehead, recounting what took place in the Massies Mill area in the hours just after the deluge.
Oakland Museum, located next to Nelson United Methodist Church, will open at 10 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. The Camille exhibit room will be showing video documentaries on Camille throughout the day, and the Camille Resource Center, a computer with hundreds of photos and other documents related to Camille, will be available for those interested. Other video displays in the museum will also have Camille-related programs showing.
There is no charge for the program or for the museum, though donations are welcome to support the society’s programs.