This is Part 3 of this story, taken from accounts by my grandfather and great aunt, as well as historical record. (If you didn't read Part 1 and Part 2 go on over there and then come back here!)
The Storm of 1919 that decimated Corpus Christi, Texas, is the fourth most intense and deadly hurricane of the 20th century. It would have been rated a Cat. 4 hurricane by modern scales.The official death toll was upwards of 700 people, counting 10 ships at sea that were swallowed by the storm, but modern historians put the toll at closer to 1200.
Rosa's panicked shriek as her arms were ripped from Rob's waist still rang in his ears as the front of the hotel sheared away and he was carried away by the furious, sixteen foot storm surge. He worked to keep his head above water, while debris, other people, and even a horse battered into him in the frenetic ride to the sea. Frothy water slapped at him, driving up his nose and down his mouth. His arms flailed and his legs kicked as he struggled to stay above water and to grab at anything; anything that would keep him from being swept out to sea. His arms closed around part of a roof that sailed along next to him, but the force of the current raked his hands over the exposed nails and the jagged wood.
In a moment when his focus contracted to a single point ahead, he spotted his last chance, a three story building with the roof still above water. He made one last desperate heave for it as the water funneled him past. His bloody fingers just managed to latch a grip onto it, and with strength from an unknown reservoir, he pulled himself over the edge and onto the top. When he came to, the winds had subsided and the water was already receding. The devastation before him was untenable. His refuge was the only building he could see left standing, and then only partially, as the southwest corner of it had washed away. Rosa, Rosa, Rosa...was all that filled his head.
Mama, the girls, and little Henry felt the wagon lifting off the ground with the force of the wind just as the schoolhouse came into sight. She jumped out and pushed each child to the doorway. Others already inside held the door open against the wind and pulled them in the rest of the way. Mama sat on the floor, held little Henry in her lap, and slumped at the effort of it. The little girls were soon playing while the wind blasted the stone walls and the rain drove like darts against the covered windows. Oh Lord, let my men be safe, she silently prayed. Just let them be safe.
Maria was losing the battle, the sucking power of the sea still unrelenting and unsatisfied. She knew she was being swept past the Spohn Sanitarium, the city hospital, and she had seen people on the top of the long steps, but she was being pulled under again, not even sure if she was right side up or upside down. She felt something pull, grab her long hair and pull hard. Even as she was being lifted from the water with those tight holds on her hair, she didn't want to let herself believe she was being saved, and yet she was. Those two men who hauled her by her hair out of the water, nabbing hold of it as she was swept past, did not let go, and pulled her all the way inside, passing her off to others inside who carried her up the stairs to the second floor.
Rob stumbled through debris, trying to get his bearings in a landscape that looked more like one of the bombed cities he'd seen in action in WWI than that of a booming beach vacation spot. He found the sign of the Pavillion Hotel, where he'd spent such sweet days with his bride Rosa, but not one stick of the building was left. Not one.
M. C. and Father spent long hours huddled under the little outcropping, shielding the three newborn calves they with them. They felt the aberrant eye of the storm pass over, with stillness so profound M.C. heard a leaf touch the ground just beyond them. And then like a tag team match, the infuriated backside winds of the storm roared after them. When finally all was past, M. C. and Father ventured out with the calves. At the bloated river crossing, with no horse, wagon, or bridge, M. C. had an epiphany on how to cross, desperate as they were to find Mama and the other kids. Hay bales floated past and jammed at a narrow point. He and Father picked their way gingerly across, ferrying each calf with them.
"If I know your Mama, she took the kids and headed for the schoolhouse," Father said as they surveyed what was left of their empty home. "Let's head there."
Maria found safety with the others in the hospital, and they were plucked out of the highest windows by boat that ferried them to stable ground. Bleeding, battered, and bruised, she rubbed her belly gently and breathed a prayer of thanks.
Among the rolls of the deceased in Corpus Christi in the Storm of 1919 were:
Mrs. Rosa Robnet, Rob's beloved bride
Jose Hernandez, husband of Maria
Pablita Hernandez, daughter of Maria
George Hernandez, son of Maria
Rob moved back to the east coast, mired in his own devastation. He healed from his physical injuries and began a law practice. He never remarried.
M. C. helped in the recovery efforts and even weeks later, found bodies washed up into the river flats, so coated with oil from breached oil storage tanks and in such bad condition there was no way of ever identifying them. He and Father worked ceaselessly with the others until all the dead were recovered and buried, many of the unidentifiable in mass graves. Mama prayed a prayer of thanks everyday for the rest of her long life that her family was spared. M. C. didn't like to talk about that time, but he made sure his children and his grandchildren, including me, respected the power and fury of nature.
Maria wanted to die herself when she found out her entire family was gone. She couldn't imagine what she had left to live for. But her suspicions proved correct and she was already pregnant when she was pulled by her long hair out of that killer storm. Even though she'd miscarried several babies before the storm, this new baby held onto life in her womb as ferociously as she had in the storm. She had a son, and named him Jose, after his father.