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The Backstory: The Gulf hurricane that nearly destroyed Port Aransas

This week in 1970, a violent hurricane slammed into Corpus Christi and communities along Texas' Coastal Bend.

AUSTIN, Texas — We’re just about a week away from the beginning of the peak hurricane season for our part of the world. The National Hurricane Center says the period from mid-August to late October is when most hurricanes that could affect the Texas coast form in warm Gulf of Mexico waters.

And it was an August storm 51 years ago this week that nearly wiped out the popular gulf coast beach destination of Port Aransas.

One thing about the ocean waters of the tropics, a calm sea can turn stormy this time of year, and that’s what happened the first week of August 1970 when a small weather disturbance gained strength near Cuba.

Hurricane Celia marched across the Gulf of Mexico making a beeline for Corpus Christi. 

Even the National Weather Service used unusually colorful language to describe Celia’s destructive rendezvous with the Coastal Bend: They reported that “Celia aimed at the Corpus area like a wild beast stalking its prey.”

And what a beast Celia was.

When it slammed into the Texas coast, it produced sustained winds of 130 mph. Because of its strong winds, 85% of the property damage caused by the storm occurred in Corpus Christi, with 90% of the buildings downtown either damaged or destroyed. 

The eye of the storm passed over Port Aransas, where the National Weather Service estimated that three-fourths of the homes and businesses there suffered damage or were completely blown away when wind gusts reached 180 mph. The community that’s so well known to Central Texans who enjoy deep sea fishing and beach-going these days was nearly wiped off the map this week in 1970.

Fifteen people died during the storm and nearly 500 were injured.

Celia was one for the record books with $500 million in property damage. That's equivalent to about $3 billion today.

At the time, Celia was the costliest hurricane in Texas history. But in those 51 years since, records would be broken by storms like Hurricane Harvey that went ashore in the same general area four years ago this month.  

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