HARLINGEN — It was 50 years ago and the approaching storm was being described as “angry and murderous.”
By the time Hurricane Beulah turned its eye on the lower Gulf Coast, it had already killed at least 22 people.
On the day of the direct hit, residents woke to this newspaper headline, “Valley Reels Under Beulah’s Mad Fury: 175-Mile Hurricane Winds Expected This Morning.”
That was Sept. 20, 1967, when Beulah made landfall just south of Brownsville, near the mouth of the Rio Grande.
Days earlier, the Valley had begun preparations for Beulah’s “reception.”
Here is what happened, according to stories published in the Valley Morning Star at the time.
The Valley began keeping a wary eye on Beulah beginning Thursday, Sept. 14, as the storm churned slowly toward Cuba as a minimal 75 mph-hurricane.
Concern grew over the next several days as wind speeds increased and the storm, although on an erratic track, “headed generally for the Texas coast.”
On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Beulah was “steering such an uncertain course that forecasters refused to predict its ultimate path.”
On Saturday, AP said, the “lazy trek across tropical waters” continued as the storm “zeroed in on the resort island of Cozumel, off the Mexican coast.”
But AP said, “an eventual strike along the Gulf Coast was nearly a certainty.”
The Valley began preparing in earnest the next day.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 17, 1967
The Cameron County Sheriff’s Department and local police began making preparations for “Beulah’s reception” as “the big storm drew a bead on the mouth of the Rio Grande between Texas and Mex-ico.”
The storm was some 550 miles southeast of Brownsville and a hurri-cane watch was in effect for the entire Texas coast.
Small craft along the coast were warned to remain in port. Early in the afternoon, the sheriff’s department warned resi-dents on South Padre Island “to begin immedi-ate preparations for evacuation.”
That day, Harlingen po-lice “requisitioned” extra flashlight batteries and “long sections of rope” to use to barricade flooded streets, should Beulah strike.
Harlingen police also broke out extra flares and 5 gallon cans “to store gasoline for the police auxiliary generator which supplies power to the radio.”
“Harlingen police have a disaster plan which they have worked out and gone over several times,” the Star reported.
A check with two motels on the Island late Sunday indicated life as usual, for now.
Edgar Kent, manager of Sea Island Motel, said, “No sweat yet. Nothing stirring until we see what things look like Monday. We do have a rising tide and the sea is choppy. But that’s it.”
The Coast Guard at Port Isabel was placed on a 48-hour alert Sunday after-noon. “That means we have everything standing by so we can do whatever is necessary when the time comes,” a spokesman said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety issued its standard warning, urging residents to be prepared. Along with the usual pre-cautions, DPS advised:
Pay no attention to rumors.
Be calm. Your ability to meet emergencies will inspire and help others.
They also advised resi-dents to keep a radio or TV on for the latest warnings and advisories.
MONDAY, SEPT. 18, 1967
“An erratic, angry and murderous Hurricane Beulah, long lived and furiously threatening, turned suddenly in her whirling dervish drive toward the Texas coast,” the Star reported.
Fringe winds were slash-ing Tampico and heavy rains were falling there.
“The crazy storm several times had taken dead-center aim on a target, and then whirled off into an-other direction, leaving death in its wake.”
“Even if Beulah’s mightiest punch falls upon Mexico,” Valleyites were bracing, “battening down” and boarding up homes, taping windows, laying up on food and filling car gas tanks and stocking up on transistor radios.
Valley Baptist Hospital was making preparations for emergencies and stock-ing up on food to last several days.
Wilbert Allen, the city of Harlingen’s superinten-dent of sanitation, warned residents that “a garbage can lid can become a dangerous flying saucer in a gale or hurricane.”
The Red Cross said 27 shelters were being read-ied in churches, schools and some large public buildings in Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo, Starr and Brooks counties — enough space “to handle 20,000 persons.”
From Brownsville to Corpus Christi, hotels and motels were moving furni-ture to upper floors.
In a side note, United Press International re-ported that Texas, at the time, had had “some 9,000 deaths in hurricanes since the first hurricane of re-cord sank or drove ashore some of pirate Lafitte’s ships in 1818.” Most of those deaths, an estimated 6,000 to 8,000, occurred in the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, according to UPI.
In Port Isabel, the mayor said he had five school buses “standing ready to evacuate people to Har-lingen.”
TUESDAY, SEPT. 19, 1967
The federal Office of Emergency Planning re-ported that 18 Coast Guard cutters, 15 planes and helicopters and 2,200 Coast Guard officers and men were on hurricane alert.
The Red Cross had 26 mobile kitchens taking up stations “in threatened coastal cities.”
“Navy operations offi-cers at Corpus Christi drafted detailed plans to launch a rescue force of Navy and Marine Corps planes and helicopters as soon as Beulah has passed.”
The Star reported, “A homicidal Hurricane Beu-lah, erratic and mean, aimed her maniacal strength at the lower Val-ley area late Tuesday night.”
The Red Cross set up its “disaster headquarters” in Harlingen City Hall.
“Harlingen had com-pleted just about all possi-ble precautions Tuesday night for the onslaught of Hurricane Beulah and in the words of almost every official and department head, was ‘standing by.’”