THE BEULAH STORY: STAFF RESPONDS WITH COURAGE & SACRIFICE
by Richard D. Boyle, Editor
From The Visiting Fireman News, Vol. 1, No. 21, pp. 1, 4, October 23, 1967.
Beulah, as unpredictable as any female, slashed a twisting swath of death and destruction through Texas and Mexico in one of the century's worst storm disasters last month. Before it was over, several men and women of Fireman's Fund American Insurance Companies had stories to tell of harrowing encounters with the killer storm that left dozens of persons dead in her wake.
For Jack Snitker it was a duel with a deadly five foot rattle-snake.
Lee Adams and Darlene Cole had to flee to the second story of their hotel because rising flood waters already reached the first floor.
There were also stories of personal sacrifice to come out of the disaster. Like the story of Ham Operator James K. Freeman who fought 650 miles of washed out bridges, muddy roads and raging rivers to reach Brownsville to assist the radio communications system.
There were also countless stories of FFA men and women who saw a need and acted, such as the Houston Fundsters who donated large quantities of clothing and household goods to the stricken victims of Beulah.
This is the Beulah story:
It began last month when the hurricane, building for days in the placid waters of the Gulf of Mexico, lashed out with a deadly fury at the coast of Texas.
In the wake of the storm came up to 30 inches of rain - about equal to the average annual rainfall in the entire state of Texas. Over 50 tornadoes spun off Beulah, spreading destruction across the state. Before the hurricane died on land, it took one final turn and lunged deep into Northern Mexico.
"We went to work right away," reports Charles D. Epperson, regional claims manager, Southwestern department, moved people in from all over the country.
Two storm centers were immediately set up: One in Harlingen and the other in Corpus Christi.
Like military convoys, rows of cars braved high waters, mud, and rain to reach the storm centers, but still the weather was so bad that they were held up for one day. It was the group headed by Lee Adams, of Dallas, that ran into trouble. Thirty inches of rain pounded the city of Harlingen. The Arroya Colorado Floodway, despite around-the-clock bolstering by volunteers, just couldn't take it.
Adams, Darlene Cole, supervising clerk at the Lubbock, Texas branch and seven other staff members were trying to reach their hotel when the levies broke. They waded through high water to get to the Holiday Inn. When the flood waters rose, they retreated to the second floor with all their baggage. It was a tough night for Adams because four of his men were missing as the waters continued to rise up over the nine foot-mark.
The nine were later rescued by police using swamp buggies to pick up stranded victims of Beulah.
Adams the next day discovered his other men were safe. One slept on top of a desk in the storm center office and the others managed to get hotel space on higher ground.
While the Adams team was in Harlingen, Jack Snitker, a Lubbock Claims adjuster faced another danger in Corpus Christi. He was inspecting the flooded house of an insured. with 27 inches of water still in the driveway, Snitker wearing wading boots, tried to fish out a lawn mower. There was a danger of snakes so the insured, Ray Benkland, had a .22 cal. rifle along.
As Benkland reached the plastic cover that protected the mower, a large rattlesnake, coiled on top of the mower, showed its fang. Pushing Benkland back, Snitker grabbed the rifle and blasted the rattler in the head. Snitker must have been either good or lucky because he hit it with one shot.
When Beulah struck, James K. Freeman of the Houston branch claims department, was doing his regular duties in that city.
Jim has been a "ham" operator of some 21 years and is the "Emergency Coordinator" for the Amateur Radio Relay League of Harris County as well as Civil Defense Radio Officer for Harris County and communications liaison for the Harris County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
When lines of communication are disrupted, amateur radio operators maintain communication for government agencies, health services and the Red Cross, to determine the needs of that particular agency.
There is no subsidy for this volunteer organization but members are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.
Jim and three other operators went to Brownsville shortly after Beulah stopped blowing. The normal 440 mile trip turned into 650 miles and instead of taking 8 hours it took 19, due to high water and washed-out roads.
However, during this extremely rough and hazardous trip, contact was maintained with the Weather Bureau, Department of Public Safety, the Red Cross and State Civil Defense personnel.
Transmission of some 92 hours was maintained using auxiliary power only, as all other power supplies were out due to Beulah and her ravages.
While at Brownsville they were instrumental in taking and relaying 196 incoming messages and also originated 84 of operational nature, such as demands for personnel, supplies and equipment.
After these amateur operators moved from Brownsville to Harlingen on Saturday, September 23, Jim Hutchinson of the Sinclair Oil Company, one of the operators, received a call that his own mother had died. The Red Cross arranged to have Hutchinson picked up by Avion plane at which time, and within minutes, he was flown to Houston to take care of his own personal tragedy.
While getting ready for a night's sleep in Harlingen, they were notified by another amateur that a dam had broken at the Arroyo Colorado Floodway, five miles north of Harlingen. Emergency evacuation was in order and six hours later the area vacated was under nine feet of water.
Governor of Texas, John Connolly was in the disaster area on Saturday, Sept. 23, and held a conference. Freeman attended all these conferences.
Epperson said the Company is setting aside a reserve of $1,275,300 to cover losses from the disaster. He expects over 2000 claims and is now processing over 1000. The company's biggest loss was to The Valley Cable Television System, estimated at $125,000.
Claims people had a moment of real worry when flood waters threatened the international bridge between Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico. The bridge is covered for $500,000 physical damage and $600,000 business interruption loss, said Epperson. Luckily the bridge was not damaged in the flood.
It was a busy week for Fireman's Fund American.
[Fireman's Fund Archives: 4-1-3-5-28; 1334]
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