40 years ago, Betsy roared across the gulf

The 1965 hurricane killed 74 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. It also left almost half of New Orleans under water.

Associated Press
Published May 29, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - Terry Tullier remembers Hurricane Betsy all too well. What worries him is that many others in New Orleans don't.

"I was 20 years old. And what bothers me about this storm is that at least two generations don't have that historical frame of reference," said Tullier, director of the New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Betsy was born off the coast of Africa and took 16 days to cross the Atlantic before passing the tip of Florida and entering the Gulf of Mexico. It smashed into New Orleans the night of Sept. 9, 1965, after blasting ashore at Grand Isle with 145 mph winds and 12-foot tides.

The storm surge lapped over levees and, in some places, broke through. It left almost half of New Orleans under water and 60,000 residents homeless.

Century-old oaks crashed into the city's historic streets, taking down telephone poles and power lines. Houses rocked on their foundations, and roofs disappeared. A ferry sank, and boats and barges broke their moorings and ran wild in the Mississippi River.

Floodwaters approached 20 feet in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes. The fishing villages of Yscloskey, Shell Beach and Delacroix Island were flattened.

Seventy-four people died in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida, and the hurricane caused more than $6.3-billion in damage.

Tullier said he thinks a similar hurricane would cause "substantially more damage" than Betsy because of Louisiana's coastal erosion and loss of wetlands, which help to soften a hurricane's blow.

"There's nothing out there to take the punch out of it before it gets here," he said.