There are few events in a lifetime people just don’t forget.
Natural disasters are certainly one of them.
In Nelson County, Hurricane Camille — an event that hit Aug. 19, 47 years ago — will not soon be forgotten.
“The Camille stories at Davis Creek are stories of devastation and tragedy, loss of life and treasured home places,” Nelson County Historical Society President Bob Carter said during an annual commemorative event Saturday.
“But they also demonstrate the resilience of Nelson County, its land and its people.”
This year marked the 11th time the historical society has hosted the event. More than 200 people attended the presentation at Nelson United Methodist Church in Arrington.
“Every year that we do this, we get more stories, more pictures and more information,” historical society secretary Woody Greenberg said. “… The more we get, the better off we are.”
This year’s event was focused on the Davis Creek near Lovingston and Woods Mill.
Camille was responsible for dropping more than 25 inches of rain on Nelson County on Aug. 19, according to The Washington Post. Of the more than 250 deaths caused by Camille, 124 people were killed in Nelson alone, the historical society said.
Fifty-two of those lives were lost in the community of Davis Creek.
An approximately 30-minute video shown at the beginning of the event featured interviews from a number of Hurricane Camille survivors, most of whom lived in Davis Creek at the time.
In the video Carolyn Thomason recounted the numerous funerals for those who perished in the historic hurricane. As the pianist who played during funerals at Oak Hill Baptist Church, Thomason remembered the extended time it took to identify bodies — and one case in which a man was forced to go through the process of burying his loved one twice when the first body was incorrectly identified as his wife.
A total of 27 people who died when Camille hit are buried at Oak Hill.
Also during the video, Rhonda Deane told of the determination and quick thinking of a little boy who used a piece of tin roofing to keep the rain from overcoming him and his sisters.
Greenberg said even though he’s been telling and hearing tales associated with the flood for decades, he hadn’t heard that one. He explained because the rain was coming down so quickly, the group of kids probably would have drowned if not for the tin roof.
Yet another story featured in the video came from Charlotte Evans Connor, who told how she volunteered at Nelson County High School after the hurricane to help people who had suffered the loss of homes or of family and friends. She said she specifically remembers folding baby clothes, as several people who had survived had nothing to put on their little ones.
As Connor told her story for the video, thunder crashed and the flash of lightning could be seen through the sheer curtains hanging on the widows in the background, catching her off guard.
“Every time there’s a thunderstorm,” Connor said after the noise had quieted, “you relive it.”
After the video, Tiffany Spencer, a Nelson County resident whose family lived in Davis Creek when Hurricane Camille hit, shared stories of each of the 52 people from the area who died nearly five decades ago.
“There were so many of them lost on that day,” Spencer said. “…We hear so much about the event, about Camille, Camille, but not actually about the people and their lives — learning about, you know, they had just celebrated their wedding anniversary or they had only been married a few months; little, personal details that I think should be remembered.”
Though she wasn’t alive at the time of the hurricane, Spencer spent most of her life hearing stories from her grandparents who survived the hurricane. According to Spencer, 22 blood members of her family, the Huffman family, and one other who lived in the Huffman household perished.
She’s also poured more than a decade of work into mapping out each house in Davis Creek that was destroyed or damaged and has compiled details of the lives of all who were killed in the area.
Saturday’s packed program also featured a presentation by Dick Whitehead, whose father was sheriff in Nelson County at the time of Camille, on how the topography of Davis Creek contributed to the major loss of lives and property.
At the end of the event, a short video on the Ginger Gold apple showed the resiliency of the county in the aftermath of Camille.
Now distributed nationwide, the apple was found by Clyde Harvey on one of the few trees left on his Davis Creek property. The unique variety had never been discovered, and after a series of steps to identify the fruit, it was named “Ginger Gold” for Clyde’s wife, Virginia “Ginger” Harvey.
Each year the historical society focuses on a different aspect of the historic disaster to provide perspective. Past events have featured Camille’s impact on various communities, individuals, families and first responders; rebuilding efforts; or a look at the hurricane as a weather event.
For the 50th anniversary of Camille, the Nelson County Historical Society plans to release a book of photos of the aftermath.