Heart of Louisiana: Caminada Hurricane

More than a century before Hurricane Katrina, residents of coastal Louisiana were battered by a monster hurricane. According to some accounts, the hurricane of 1893 was the deadliest hurricane ever to strike the Louisiana coast.

There is a small cemetery along LA-1 near Grand Isle. A dead oak tree, the sinking ground, and the crumbling graves are a fading memorial to a monster hurricane. In the late 1800's, Cheniere Caminada was a thriving fishing village. Cheniere is a French word for oak covered ridge. It was the high ground in the coastal prairie.

"They provided a lot of fisheries, the oysters that went to the French Quarter and to New Orleans," says Windell Curole with the South Lafourche Levee District.

There were cottages on the gulf beach and fishing in the bay. It was a good life until a late season hurricane slammed into the coast.

The hurricane that struck Cheniere Caminada in 1893 was the deadliest hurricane ever in Louisiana. 2,000 people died. In the small community of 1,700, half of the population was killed.

The violent storm caught residents by surprise.

John Doucet's great-great grandfather and family were trapped in the terror of the hurricane.

"They didn't get on their boats to go up the bayou to higher land. They didn't try to evacuate. They were all caught there in the middle of the night, suddenly," Doucet said. "When the walls imploded and the roof fell, the roof was floating so it ended up on the high part of the island and underneath that triangular structure is where everybody survived."

Entire families were wiped out as fierce winds and a massive storm surge swept over the town.

"There are some miraculous stories of people surviving out on the water as long as eight days; just different boats ran across and saved these people, and then there were just tragic scenes like the three girls hand in hand up against barbed wire fence that some of the workers found," Curole said.

Hundreds of victims were buried in the town cemetery. Only a few of the gravesites are still recognizable today. It was a nearly forgotten disaster until the hurricane's 100th anniversary. That's when John Doucet wrote a play for the centennial.

"Hey old man, what that means when the sky's yellow like that. That means there's gonna be some wind and the rain. So you better go tie up your boat good."

In the play, an old man warns of bad weather, but his words of caution are ignored until it's too late

You know boy, you should listen. Everybody around here think they know something better. But they're gonna be sorry one of these days."

"When I saw people on the side of me, to the left and to the right, crying in the middle of the hurricane, I didn't understand what I had done. What I had done basically is make people remember what it was like to survive their own hurricanes like Betsy or Hilda or hurricanes from the 50's before they were named.

After the 1893 hurricane wiped out the settlement at Cheniere Caminada, many of the survivors moved farther north to communities like Leeville and Golden Meadow.