Grand Isle, LA (WVUE) -In late 1893, Gulf Coast community of Cheniere Caminada must have seemed a paradise.
Caminada, just east of Grand Isle, was something of a boom town, providing fisheries to New Orleans.
Suddenly and without warning, on October 1 that year, a powerful hurricane tossed an entire community into churning waters with 100 miles an hour plus winds and a 12 foot surge.
"My grandfather was born in February of that year, one of the few babies to survive," said Windell Curole, General Manager of the South Lafourche Levee District, who has helped keep alive the stories about that horrific night.
Seven of Curole's eight grandparents lived in Cheniere Caminada.
While all 8 of them survived, half the community of 1,200 people died along with hundreds of other casualties in communities along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.
The storm, estimated by the National Hurricane Center to have been a Category Four, struck decades before forecasters started applying names to storms.
Estimates vary, but the overall death toll was estimated to have been somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000, making the storm one of the deadliest five ever recorded to have struck the U.S. mainland.
"Survival that night was dependent on how long you could hold onto something," Curole said.
Dez Cheramie, a survivor of the storm, granted an interview in the late 1980s, a few years before his death.
"They began to say the rosary," recalled Cheramie, who was five years old in 1893.
"The people that were drowning were calling for their pappas and mommas to tell them that they were drowning."
Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle said accounts of the storm passed down through the generations tell of people rushing outside as the eye passed to help rescue other residents only to be caught in it themselves. As the wind changed direction, flood waters pushed people out to sea.
"They took a beating from the north and they didn't know where everybody was at after that," Camardelle said.
Today, the population of Grand Isle roughly equals that of 1893. Many of the storm survivors and their decendents moved north over the years away from the Gulf.
Today, the fight against the Gulf continues.
On the western side of Grand Isle, hurricanes since Katrina have chewed away 100 feet of sand.
Town leaders are pushing a $30 million dollar project to install almost a mile of breakwaters, build back beach and stop the erosion.
"I don't want to be studying," Camardelle said. "We're ready to put the rocks in the water."
The project requires approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Windell Curole believes lessons from the 1893 storm prompted voters in South Lafourche to pass higher taxes, providing the funding for improvements to the levee district.
“We just moved to get away from the water,” Curole said. “Now that the water has chased us here, we’ve had to mitigate it by building this hurricane protection system.”