I prepared for Hurricane Laura by cooking everything in the fridge and laying down the garden statues. I was bracing for a week-long power outage and general mayhem. Turns out, we never even lost power. We’re lucky to live in Baton Rouge, which is far enough inland to escape the storm surges but sometimes not the strong winds of hurricanes.
Hurricanes are a deadly part of life in south Louisiana. I am hopeful that anyone who lives in Cameron Parish got the heck out of dodge before Hurricane Laura made landfall.
Years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter, I remember flying over Cameron Parish with Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s husband, Coach, and the rest of the press corps after Hurricane Rita. Coach was a great storyteller. As we swooped over the Cameron Parish Courthouse in a Black Hawk helicopter, he pointed it out as the only building left standing in the town of Cameron after an earlier hurricane. Hurricane Audrey decimated every other building in town and ripped babies out of their mothers’ arms.
Mother Nature can be cruel, as those of us who call this boot-shaped, water-logged state know well. And the ones who live in the coastal parishes are especially vulnerable.
I thought it fitting to revisit one the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit Louisiana. The storm hit in 1856, before hurricanes were named.
Back in those days, a barrier island off the coast of Terrebonne Parish was a summer resort. Vacationing families could escape the heat and enjoy Gulf breezes and white sand. It was known as Last Island, presumably because it was the last bit of land before the Gulf. However, a barrier island also is the last place you want to be during a hurricane. Barrier islands are called such because they act as a barrier for the mainland from storms.
In August 1856, a Category 3 hurricane hit and destroyed every building on the island, including a large hotel owned by John Muggah. Half of the 400 people on the island perished. The island itself disappeared. Today, it’s a series of small islands inhabited by birds.
During the hurricane, some people clung to trees while others were hit by debris or blinded by whipped up sand. The hotel held on at first before ripping apart. Many of the survivors made it out by making their way to a ship that was supposed to ferry people to safety but didn’t reach the island early enough and wrecked. Within days, the wreckage would be one of the few remaining landmarks of Last Island.