Category 5

The Story of Camille, Lessons Unlearned from America's Most Violent Hurricane
Ernest Zebrowski and Judith A. Howard
The epic story of the real victims of a perfect storm—overwhelmingly the poor—left behind in the aftermath of a deadly hurricane


As the unsettled social and political weather of summer 1969 played itself out amid the heat of antiwar marches and the battle for civil rights, three regions of the rural South were devastated by the horrifying force of Category 5 Hurricane Camille.

Camille's nearly 200 mile per hour winds and 28-foot storm surge swept away thousands of homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. Twenty-four oceangoing ships sank or were beached; six offshore drilling platforms collapsed; 198 people drowned. Two days later, Camille dropped 108 billion tons of moisture drawn from the Gulf onto the rural communities of Nelson County, Virginia—nearly three feet of rain in 24 hours. Mountainsides were washed away; quiet brooks became raging torrents; homes and whole communities were simply washed off the face of the earth.

In this gripping account, Ernest Zebrowski and Judith Howard tell the heroic story of America's forgotten rural underclass coping with immense adversity and inconceivable tragedy.

Category 5 shows, through the riveting stories of Camille's victims and survivors, the disproportionate impact of natural disasters on the nation's poorest communities. It is, ultimately, a story of the lessons learned—and, in some cases, tragically unlearned—from that storm: hard lessons that were driven home once again in the awful wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Ernest Zebrowski is founder of the doctoral program in science and math education at Southern University, a historically black university in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Professor of Physics at Pennsylvania State University's Pennsylvania College of Technology. His previous books include Perils of a Restless Planet: Scientific Perspectives on Natural Disasters.

Judith Howard earned her Ph.D. in social work from UCLA, and writes a regular political column for the Ruston, Louisiana, Morning Paper.

Praise / Awards

  • "Category 5 examines with sensitivity the overwhelming challenges presented by the human and physical impacts from a catastrophic disaster and the value of emergency management to sound decisions and sustainability."
    —John C. Pine, Chair, Department of Geography & Anthropology and Director of Disaster Science & Management, Louisiana State University

  • "Category 5 is a compelling tale about Hurricane Camille and lessons yet to be learned. Enjoy this read—and learn."
    —Pat Abbott, Professor of Geology, San Diego State

  • "Category 5 recounts the horror story of the giant 1969 hurricane, Camille. Read it if you want to understand Katrina."
    —Paul Craig

  • "An unemotional account of the emotionally wrenching impact of hurricane Camille—persuasive evidence why it doesn't pay 'to ride out a hurricane' at home."
    —Robert Simpson

  • ". . . the authors sound a pessimistic note about society's short-term memory in their sobering, able history of Camille."

  • ". . . a gripping and thought-provoking account of a major hurricane disaster and its consequences, and how little seems to have been learnt from it."
    International Journal of Meteorology

  • "This highly readable account aimed at a general audience excels at telling the plight of the victims and how local political authorities reacted. The saddest lesson is how little the public and the government learned from Camille. Highly recommended for all public libraries, especially those on the Gulf and East coasts."
    —William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport, Library Journal online

  • "This is a book all Americans should read."
    Polish American Journal

  • "The story [the authors] tell of Camille is fascinating, easy-to-read, yet informative. Of note is the ease with which [they] explain the science of storms. They distill the particulars into a narrative that makes sense."
    Richmond Times-Dispatch

  • ". . . a riveting read, almost like sitting in front of the television watching the events unfold. A page-turner from the very first page, the writers capture every aspect of human emotion in this book."
    —Ruston Morning Paper

  • "It is to our benefit as readers that the authors are not only scrupulous in their research but also know how to weave it into a narrative with human faces. . . . There is much we can all learn from this relevant and highly engaging chronicle."
    Sun Herald (Biloxi)

  • ". . . a remarkable account of Camille, a fascinating page-turner that not only details the the physics of what happens when near-200 miles per hour winds and a 28-foot storm surge make landfall, but provides a heartrending retelling of what happened that fateful night 37 years ago, before weather satellites and Doppler radar and cable television, when Camille came ashore. . . . [A] must-read for anyone who wants to take an emotional stroll through the rubble of these Gulf Coast fishing communities and learn what happened, why it happened and the effect such a storm had on people from Plaquemines Parish to Boloxi, MS, and as far north as Nelson County, VA. . . ."
    —David Adlerstein, Apalachicola Times (Franklin County, Florida)

  • ". . . a riveting new book that stresses the human tragedy embodied by the storm and those it affected in Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, Mississippi coastal towns and Nelson County, Va., where remnants of the storm deluged rural mountain communities."
    —Randolph E. Schmid, Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, South Carolina, 5/28/2006); Tallahassee Democrat (Tallahassee, Florida, 6/4/2006)

  • ". . . the authors tell the story of America's forgotten rural underclass coping with immense adversity and inconceivable tragedy. They show, through the stories of Hurricane Camille's victims and survivors, the disproportionate impact of natural disasters on the nation's poorest communities. It is, ultimately, a story of the lessons learned—and, in some cases, tragically unlearned—from that storm."
    American Meteorological Society Bulletin

  • "The tales of both death and destruction as well as survival are so vivid it's as though you can feel the wind clawing at your skin in each section. . . . the parallels to last year's Hurrican Katrina make Category 5 not simply an historical account of a storm 37 years ago but a living, breathing entity brimming with the modern-day reality that, yes, it can happen again."
    American Meteorological Society Bulletin (May 2006)

  • ". . . a riveting and significant book. . . . This comprehensive book is spellbinding in its play-by-play account of the incredible stories of the many lives that were torn and lost in Hurricane Camille. . . . Category 5: Lessons Unlearned should be required reading for anyone living in the path of these terrible storms, in addition to those who desire to understand the intricacy that is associated with natural disasters."
    —Tamour Allen,

Look Inside

Copyright © 2005, Ernest Zebrowski and Judith A. Howard. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 304 pages.
  • 5 Maps, 10 figures, 24 B&W Photos.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02587-9

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