Location: Cameron, Louisiana, United States
Painful Ordeal: Resident recalls Hurricane Audrey experience
As a 4-year-old, Dr. Mark R. Broussard was a survivor of Hurricane Audrey, which slammed into Cameron Parish 48 years ago this month.
"I and my family were in Cameron during the hurricane," he told the American Press. "We almost lost our lives except for the efforts of a few brave men. My father was one of these men."
Broussard said his father, Joseph Russel Broussard who now lives in Hemphill, Texas had long been encouraged to tell the full story of the events of June 26-27, 1957.
"The children of my family have asked my father to write his memories, as he is in his late 70s," Broussard said. "For a long while, the ordeal was still too painful, but he finally did it." The tale his father shared involved eight people:
- Joseph Russel Broussard, 28.
- Lurlie Mae Broussard, 26.
- Their children: Francis Kirk, 5; Mark Randall, 4; and Richard Blane, 3.
- Lisa Reyne, less than 1 year, was visiting the Broussards
- Hendrid Faulk McGill, 25.
- JoBeth McGill, 5.
Here is his story. It is a first-hand telling of local history and a cautionary tale.
BY JOSEPH RUSSEL BROUSSARD SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN PRESS
Through the night of June 26, 1957, and into the early morning hours, my neighbor C.J. Stoute and I were moving things into my family's new home just a few hundred feet down the road from the little rental house where we were staying.
The final move-in date was still two weeks away. The new house had been built mainly by the labor of friends and family.
It was financed through a bank loan that was insured by a builder's risk policy that my banker required that I carry.
I did not evacuate my family from Cameron before Hurricane Audrey. Like many others that I knew, I was of the opinion that storms had come before with little harm.
C.J. and I intended to have our two families weather this storm in the roomy new house and this is why we were bringing in water, food, blankets, bedding, and other supplies that we felt would be needed. It was 3:30 a.m. when we finished and left the new house. On walking back to the rental house, we noticed that the wind had increased dramatically and that it was raining much harder.
When I entered the rental house, I found that my wife, Lurlie, was awake, and asked her to make coffee. I knew we would not sleep, and C.J. and I were wet and cold and needed a coffee boost. As we sat waiting for the coffee to brew, I heard the gurgling of waterand realized that the sound was coming from rushing water lapping up against the floor joists under the house.
I told C.J. and Lurlie, "Grab the kids! The water's rising!" They woke everyone and led them to the car including our visitors from Georgia, Lurlie's cousin, Hendrid McGill, and her daughter, JoBeth. I went outside and waded through about 12 inches of water to get to the car. I jerked open the hood and cut the fan belt, with the thought that in high water the turning of the fan would splash water on the spark plugs and kill the engine.
With the belt cut, the fan could not turn, so perhaps this would help the engine run long enough to get us to safety.
It took about five minutes for everyone to dress and load. By that time, the water rose another 6 inches to about 20 inches over the top of the oyster-shell road.
I jumped into the car and drove us down the street. We stopped at C.J.'s house to pick up his mother and father, Louie, and his brother, Louie Junior.
C.J.'s mother forgot her purse and instinctively ran back into the house to search for it. This delayed us another 15 minutes. During this short period, water began to rise quickly up the side of my car, and the car stalled.
From then on, we had to push the car toward the main road for a distance of about six city blocks. I let Lurlie drive while C.J. and I pushed. The car was easier than normal to push since it began to float.
We picked up more people as we went along first the Peshoff family, then the Authements, and then the Savoys.
We had 18 children in the car with four adults to help keep the children calm. The rest of the adults were outside helping to push. The atmosphere in the car was hushed with kids on their best behavior. I think that the faces of the adults probably hinted to the children of the danger.
My son Mark and his brother Kirk were on the floor in the back seat, and I remember that it was odd, and somehow wrong, to see water leaking in from the outside through cracks in the doors.
The adults on the outside were wading through flowing saltwater. A friend and neighbor named Gordon joined in the pushing.
By the time we made it to the main road, the water was waist-high. There, in front of Buster Rogers' home, a large number of people had assembled.
The main road had an elevation of about 3 feet above the surrounding land so that it was not yet flooded. The rain kept us all wet, and the wind was blowing at about 30 mph.
C.J., Timmy Leblanc, and I walked down the road to a Phillips 66 station where we found an electric line repair truck.
We hot-wired the ignition and got it started. We decided to scout out conditions by making a run into town with the intention of going all the way to the center, near the courthouse.
We picked up C.J.'s father, Louie, at Buster's. We made it as far as the Methodist church, which was a quarter-mile out of town. There, the water was too deep, even for a work truck.
We were scared of going farther because if we killed the engine, we might not get it restarted. We decided to turn back. This meant that the option for getting everyone to the courthouse was out.
Louie Stoute was out of the truck, wading in the water and heading toward town. We assumed he was just checking the water depth, so we called to him to come back.
He said was going to check his ferry boat, the George Hamilton, on the other side of town. He would later safely ride this boat back through town and down Main Street during the storm in an attempt to get back to check on his family.
We turned back to Buster's house and hooked up five cars each filled with people and towed them down the road like a train.
Now that the courthouse was out as a shelter, the best option for survival was for everyone to stay in the largest home in the immediate area a Civil War mansion built by George Wakefield in 1844, but known to locals as Austin Davis' house, where the elderly Mr. Davis still lived.
Once we arrived with a load of people, the adults carried the children through the water-and into the house. C.J. and I returned to Buster's house to pick up more people. We made three trips in all.
After the third trip, we had to give it up, because floodwaters were beginning to wash cars off the road and into the yard at Austin's house.
We went inside and made a headcount. We counted 152 people including, to my surprise, my mother, Louise, and father, Claude, who had made their way from their home near the eastern edge of town. The weight of the people in the house might have aided in anchoring the building.
Maybe it was the large oaks in the front that shielded it from other houses colliding. Perhaps, the jumble of cars formed a bulwark barricade that diverted floodwaters and floating debris around it.
Certainly, the order given by Mr. Davis to open all the bottom windows allowed water to enter and prevented the house from floating like a boat.
Whatever the cause, the result was that the house never left its foundation. They don't build houses like that anymore.
We estimated the wind was now about 130 to 140 mph. All women and children were sent upstairs in two rooms. All the men were downstairs for a period until later in the storm when the water got too high even though the first floor had 16-foot ceilings.
The idea was to form a human chain to catch people as they floated by. C.J. and I tried to catch a man and his wife, but the attempt failed.
C.J. was swept away.
I was flung back into the house and through a window by a wave. The window had jagged glass. As I clutched the window frame to keep from being drawn back out by the return flow, the glass cut my left arm badly.
C.J. was able to swim to the rear of the house and climb to the top of a big pecan tree. He related later that he spent the storm there in the company of a blackbird and a big dog.
Later on, we noticed that on the roof of Frankie Henry's house next door to Austin's were three people, a black man, and his two children. We decided to attempt to rescue them since we did not believe that Frankie's house would remain intact.
The plan was to knock a hole in Frankie's roof and bring them into that house and then back along the rope to Austin's house. Frankie's house had drifted to within about 30 feet of Austin's house. They tied a rope around my waist, and I tried to swim to make it to Frankie's kitchen door.
The wind and currents were strong, and I would get halfway and be slung back.
Even after the saltwater numbed my bad arm so I could swim full out, I could not fight the current. We had to finally give up the effort.
Later on, when the wind subsided, Frankie made the statement that he had a camera loaded with film in one of his kitchen cabinets and asked me if I thought we could try making it across. Again, they tied me with a rope, and this time I was able to make it. I tied the rope to Frankie's house, and Frankie came across and entered his kitchen.
Now, humor can creep into even the worse catastrophes. In the kitchen, we found the man and his two children. Somehow, they were able to get them off the roof and were standing on the kitchen countertops. Upon recognizing Frankie, the man said in an embarrassed manner, "Mr. Frankie, I sure hope we didn't scratch the top of your cabinets."
Frankie had to laugh. His house had no walls, and the roof was held up only by studs, so at this point, he was not really concerned about the condition of his cabinets. We returned back to the Austin house with the man, both children, and the camera.
The storm subsided, and the floodwater started going down until the blacktop on the road was exposed. We formed a line of men and, like a bucket brigade, passed children and women from the house, over the debris and water, and onto the road.
We figured we could walk safely toward the courthouse, which was about a mile and a quarter away. As we progressed toward town, the debris was horrible. A path had to be scouted and the way cleared.
When we passed the Methodist church about two to three city blocks toward the city, I decided to go inside and check for survivors. To my surprise, there inside was my sister Velda, her husband, Ashburn Roux, their son, Barkley, and daughters, Jesse and Bobby along with our neighbors, Doris and Agnes Leger and Gilbert LaSalle, and a young man by the name of Ernest Mathis who worked as the clothes presser at Ashburn and Velda's cleaners nearby.
My sister's family had originally been in their house in the center of town. Their house was also a Civil War mansion built around the same time as Austin's house and which got only about 48 inches of water and comparatively slight damage. They decided to leave their house about 7 a.m. and wade to the eastern edge of town near Broussard's Motel to the home of my parents, Louise and Claude.
They intended to alert my parents, but my father insisted that the water would not rise anymore. As a result, they delayed leaving for an hour and when the water finally got too deep around the house, they had to flee. They decided the closest place was Austin's house, so they all headed east but got separated a block away at the Methodist church.
They decided the closest place was Austin's house, so they all headed east but got separated a block away at the Methodist church.
My parents went in back of the church, where the water was lower and not too swift, and were able to make it another three blocks to the Austin house. My sister's family went in front of the church, where the water was high and flowing fast enough to tear clothes off.
With the children in tow, they decided to go no farther and to shelter in the church. They said they had to share a bathroom with a snake and a rabbit since neither wanted to leave nor made any threatening move.
I also examined a small two-story cinderblock building a block away and found a man calmly sitting in a chair smoking a cigarette.
We then all joined in the procession to the courthouse. We could not go directly down the main street, because the water was still too high, so we wound our way down side streets passing mountains of debris mixed with mud.
At the courthouse, Uncle Helaire Hebert and Aunt Poon greeted us.
Dr. Cecil Clark came to check my feet. I had lost my shirt and my shoes. Pushing the car on that shell road with no shoes cut my feet to ribbons. Dr. Clark cleaned my feet with alcohol, and I was in pain.
Uncle Helaire gave me a shot of whiskey to prop up my spirits. I was not a whiskey drinker, but it sure helped. We spent the night at the courthouse, where people were sleeping in offices and even in the prison cells.
On to Lake Charles
The next day, we boarded a small cargo vessel and proceeded to Lake Charles. The assigned captain was not familiar with the channel and asked me, since I was a licensed boat captain and knew channel conditions, to pilot the vessel into Lake Charles.
On arriving, the first person we recognized was Lurlie's father, Paw-Paw Eloi Broussard. He was tall at 6 feet 4 inches, and we recognized his distinctive Stetson hat above the crowd. He had his grandchild and our nephew, Jimmy Broussard, with him.
It was not long before Martin arrived and took us to his house along with Terry Theriot and his wife.
At the time, Sam's wife was pregnant with her eighth child. Sam and his wife were true friends to take us all in when their house was already full with their own children.
Sam was the best harmonica player that I have ever heard, and at night he would play for us to provide entertainment that we sorely needed.
Sadly, Sam's wife would very soon die in childbirth giving life to the baby she was carrying.
Terry Theriot asked me to go to the docks to help search for the bodies of his three children. I knew their faces and agreed.
We looked through all the bodies of young children there. This sight was the most horrible and sad thing that I have ever had to view. Unable to locate Terry's children, we returned to Sam's house.
As we walked into the living room, someone said that coffee was ready. Terry continued on to the kitchen, and the phone rang. I answered it, and the gentleman on the line identified himself as calling from Burke Hammer Funeral Home.
He said that he was trying to get in touch with a Mr. Terry Theriot and to pass on to him that they had his daughter. I was shocked, and before I could respond, the caller hung up.
I went to the kitchen and informed Terry about the call. I told him that I would take him to the funeral home, and we left Sam's immediately.
Upon entering the funeral parlor, I realized that the man was correct; they did have Terry's daughter but she was alive.
According to a detailed account in Nola Mae Ross' book, Terry's family and that of his neighbor Jules Miller's ended up on Jules' rooftop.
Terry's family included his wife, Peggy, 7-year-old daughter, Gail Anne, 4-year- old Keith, and five-month-old Brian. Jules' family included his wife, Lucille, and his 7- 7-year-old daughter, Jo Ann.
The roof flipped in the waves, and people were scattered in the water. Terry had hold of his daughter; Gail Ann. Jules grabbed some boards as they flew by to keep him afloat since he could not swim.
A lightning flash revealed that Jules' daughter Jo Ann was some distance away, but then she was pulled under the water.
Terry saw this, and he knew Jules could not swim. He decided to swim over to Jules and handed him his daughter, Gail Ann. He quickly swam to where Jo Ann had been, dove down, and found her.
She climbed on his back, but as he surfaced, they were pulled under by another wave. He clutched her briefly in his arms, but she was torn away by the tremendous current and she drowned.
Terry turned his attention to saving others and swam over to Jules' wife and his son Keith, who .were floating on a board. He found that they were already dead. He then found his wife, Peggy, to be alive, but she was numb and in shock. She had just found their baby son, Brian, to be drowned. They floated together on a pile of boards in tremendous waves and ended up 20 miles north of Cameron near Hackberry where a tug traveling on the Intracoastal Canal finally rescued them.
Jules and Gail Ann floated four miles north and ended up behind the Cameron Courthouse in the top of a hackberry tree.
The wind was so fierce that flying debris ripped Jules' shirt off, but he protected Gail Ann. She was scared and crying for her parents, but he kept her alive.
After 12 hours in that tree, the storm subsided, and he was able to walk to the courthouse to hand her to her grandmother, Theresa (nicknamed "Doux").
The grandmother assumed that the rest of Gail Ann's family had perished. She took Gail Ann with her to Burke Hammer Funeral Home in Lake Charles to look for their bodies. We stayed at Sam's for about a week longer and then located a rent house in Greenwich Village.
Bill McGill, Hendrid's husband, and Maw Maw Anna Broussard returned from Columbus, Ga., the day after the storm. Just before the storm, Anna had accompanied her grandson Curtis Thibodeaux to Columbus so that she could visit her daughter Ena. Curtis intended to make money selling candy by helping Ena's husband, Terrill Adams, in his candy business in Columbus.
Once they heard the news of the storm, they drove all night to make it back. Anna wanted to go back home, but her son Alpha told her that there was no home left to go to.
Bill McGill quit his job in Georgia with his father's plumbing business to help the people of Cameron with their upcoming plumbing work.
Anna's husband, Paw-Paw Eloi Broussard, and Jimmy, Jimmy's father, Hubert, and Eloi's parents, whom we called Maa Maa and Paa Paa, were caught on Little Chenier. This area was on the worst side of the storm for both winds and high water.
They saved themselves in Eloi's wooden house, whose diagonally braced walls remained intact after the wall of water from the tidal surge hit the house and knocked it off its pillars.
The house floated like a raft northward through six miles of marsh where it hit the ground on south levee of the Intracoastal Canal.
The float trip only broke a single window pane and one board on the side of the house.
During the ordeal, a foot of water covered the floors, but the mattresses on the iron beds never got wet.
On returning to Cameron, we found that our beautiful new home, which I had designed and worked on steadily for three years, was completely gone.
All that was left on the lot were a few of the pillars on which it had stood and a toilet in its crate, ready to be installed.
I found the few other remains of the house about a mile north on a stretch of highway. I recovered the bathtub with bath items still on the rack and a sink. I also found a shelf from the kitchen that was upright with an undisturbed souvenir plastic salt and pepper shaker from a trip to New Orleans and a silver candlestick that was a wedding gift which we kept with Audrey's mud inside to remind us.
For Paw Paw's house, a house mover was contracted to load it on a flatbed trailer and carry it back to Little Chenier. One of the things that needed to be done after setting it back on its pillars was to pry cracks at the bottom of the outside wallboards to let snakes out from the inside wall spaces.
A hose was attached to the tailpipe of an idling car, and the other end of the hose was placed in the wall. The snakes would migrate away from the smell of the exhaust and slither out the open crack. After the snake dropped to the ground, someone would cut the heads off the small ones with a shovel and shoot the large ones with a shotgun.
On returning to Lake Charles, we started putting our lives back together.
Even though none of our immediate family had been killed by the storm, very shortly after, and while we were still in the shock of it all, Lurlie's brother, Hubert, who had survived the storm, was killed when the driver of the car in which he was a backseat passenger tried to beat a train at a rail crossing.
Having no home in Cameron to go back to, we decided to sell our lot to C.J. Stoute and make a life in Lake Charles.
Had we officially moved into the new house before the storm hit, we would have not only lost everything but perhaps been in debt for the house.
Standard home owner's insurance did not normally cover hurricane damage by water. Nevertheless, the builder's risk insurance did cover it. With the insurance money, I was able to pay the remaining loan on the home in Cameron and place a small down payment on the home we purchased on 3349 Swanson Lane in December 1957. There, we remained and prospered. We raised all of our seven children as best we could with the help of God, family, and friends.
Thinking back on the storm, I believe that life becomes sweeter when all seems lost and is then given back.