My Battle with Audrey - My Battle with Audrey - National Weather Service Heritage
My Battle with AudreyBy NWS Heritage Projects Editorial Staff
Library Introduction: The following account is one of the most graphic first-hand descriptions by a survivor of a major hurricane yet encountered in the Library collections. As opposed to most accounts of such events, this account was written by an eyewitness within a short time of her experiences. The author, Mrs. John R. Smith, was a young Coast Survey wife whose husband was working with a Coast and Geodetic Survey field party in southern Louisiana. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Smith's father, and their parakeet George were living in Cameron, Louisiana, in late June, 1957. In the early morning hours of June 27, Hurricane Audrey came ashore just a little to the west of Cameron driving a 12-foot wall of water ashore devastating Cameron and the small towns along the east-Texas, western Louisiana border area. By the evening hundreds of dwellings had been destroyed and over 400 people killed by the fury of this Category 3 hurricane. "My Battle With Audrey" is a survivor's story of this terrifying event.
You have heard the old expression, "I have only the shirt on my back." Well, I am one of those lucky people! I came out of Hurricane Audrey with two shirts on my back and a patched pair of overalls. They were too short for me so I had slipped the gallowses off my shoulders and they were hanging down beneath my shirt. Somewhere in the storm I had lost one sleeve of my shirt and had ripped it down my back. At Lake Charles while I was waiting for Daddy to register us at the Red Cross, a young Lt. of the Air Force and a man from the National Guard walked up to me. They looked at me standing there with Little George (our parakeet), looked at each other, shook their heads and walked away.
Wednesday I listened to all radio and TV weather reports. When Daddy came in from work, I was a little upset. He went into town and had the car filled up with gas and hooked the truck to the government office trailer.
A few minutes before eleven P. M., the landlord came and said water coming up in a low place in the road down from where we lived. He wanted us to take his wife and drive to his brother-in-law's at Creole (about 15 miles east of Cameron). We threw our bags in the car and grabbed George (our little parakeet), got Mrs. Broussard and started. We got to Creole about 12 o'clock and it was raining so hard that we decided to leave our things in the car until Thursday A. M. We planned to get up early, unload the car and take Daddy back to Cameron so he could get the trailer out. I had on my shorts and shirt so I decided I wouldn't undress, but just lie down awhile.
The house was an old home with about 12 or more rooms with a huge wall running all the way back to the kitchen. (I think that hall is what saved us). It had an upstairs.
About 6:30 Thursday A.M., Mrs. Broussard called me and said that the water was coming. (We were six miles from the Gulf.) I jumped up and ran to the front door and it looked as if the whole Gulf was coming toward us. Mrs. Broussard and her brother were both mopping up water. (They were both up in their seventies.) I ran back to the kitchen to get a mop to help - water was coming up in the kitchen. John Reed and I and the two old people stopped mopping and started to pile furniture on top of furniture.
I had put George on top of the piano in the front hall. I was afraid that someone might knock his cage off, so I asked Daddy to put him upstairs out of the way. He did and had just come back down stairs when I noticed the two heavy wooden front doors were going to break in. About the time I yelled, they burst open and the waves began to come in. Someone yelled, " Run upstairs, run for your life!'
We stayed up there and I stood for hours at the head of the steps and watched the water coming up closer and closer to the top stairs. (It came up to the last two steps). The wind was blowing about 125 miles per hour and made huge waves so water splashed upstairs in the hall. Huge logs, animals, and snakes came in washed on through the hall.
When the steps broke through on one side and the house began to tremble, all four of us went into one of the rooms and sat down along the wall close to each other. None of us said a word about it, but we thought every minute the house would go. Part of the windows were gone so we were getting pretty wet and cold. I found an old pair of overalls and an old shirt and put them on over my shorts and shirt. (That is the rig I came out in.) I found a piece of an old rug and we held it in front of us to keep some of the water off, or if the glass blew in, it wouldn't hit us in the face. I was praying that the wind would stop blowing and that the water wouldn't come up any higher, but I wasn't afraid to die. I think we were all reconciled to it and I thought if we are going, I wish that it would come and we would be out of our agony.
All the time we had been in this room, we saw houses, furniture and other debris washing past the house. Something which looked like a piece of roof of a house lodged against a tree and a man climbed from it into the tree. It was in the height of the storm and of course we couldn't get to him. When it looked as if the house would have to go, one of us would look and that poor fellow was still hanging on.
After hours, the owner of the house went into a room on the other side. He came back and said it was fairly dry and warmer so we went into it. There was a bed on it. John Reed stretched out on the floor and we three stretched out on the bed. I think I had been dozing when I heard someone yell. We jumped up, opened the door and there was the young man from the tree.
He was bloody as he had cut his hand. The poor thing came in and stood, and said as if in a bad dream, "I lost my wife, my two little girls and my niece.. It just can't be possible that I am alive." There were plenty of old clothes in the room. He changed into dry clothes and we helped him to get on the bed. There were no covers, but we covered him with an old rug. He was nearly frozen. He had on his watch and it was 2:30 P. M. When he had rested awhile, he started talking. He had packed his car and was going to leave early that morning, but the sound of the water woke him. The water came over the top of his home and all the windows went out. His little niece was closes to him so he grabbed her and floated out the window, but a big wave separated them, and she was gone. He got back into the house and his wife and children were dead. The house broke into pieces and he floated on part of it (about 3 miles) until he got into the tree. He was in the tree about 6 hours.
The water had stopped rising - what a blessed relief! We started our preparations for the night, which were to try to find enough rags for a pallet. Then we heard another yell. A man had come over in a small boat to see if we could care for more people. His family and friends had been in his attic during the storm. He had two old ladies who were in their nineties. They were brought to the house and we put them on the bed. We had three small babies come with their mothers. When the last load came, we had about 40 people. By that time it was getting dark and everybody started looking for a place to lie or sit down. Daddy and I spent the night in the hall. We found two books which we put under our heads. Everything was very quiet. Once in a while someone would take a flashlight and check the water downstairs as it was still raining and the wind was still blowing. Some time in the night I realized that it was quiet. No water rushing through the house! No wind blowing! It was a long night, but so good to see daylight!
When it was light enough to see the downstairs hall, we saw a tree lodged against the stairs. The floor was deep in mud but thank goodness we could see the door sill. The water and debris had rushed in through the large front opening (doors had washed away) and out through the back doors and windows which had all disappeared. This river flowing through the house kept the water from rising to the second floor. This is why I think the hall saved our lives as it gave the water a channel to flow through.
After an hour or so, I ventured downstairs. The first thing I saw in one of the rooms was a snake coiled on an old mattress. I turned and ran back upstairs and stayed there until it was time to wade out to the boat.
Just as soon as it was light enough, two men carried a colored woman and her little boy to try and find a doctor. They had found them in a tree not far from the house. Her other four children were gone. She and her little boy had very severe cuts on their legs.
It wasn't too long until we heard the planes, helicopters and boats. Then, at last, we all drew a deep breath as we knew we were saved.
Sometime just before or after noon, we got word that anyone who was able was to wade out to the boats. Daddy had a rough time with me then as it took me about a half hour to step into that water, with snakes and everything else in it, but I finally made the plunge. It was about waist deep. Daddy carried George and I carried my only possession, my train case. Just before we got to the road which by then was visible in spots Daddy showed me our car which was just visible. It had landed in the canal.
About little George, our parakeet …. When people were brought in Thursday evening, I covered his cage with a towel and shoved him under the bed where the old ladies were. The next morning when a little boy came out of the room, I asked him to look under the bed and bring me my little bird. I think that he and some of the others standing around thought that the storm had me loco. I finally convinced him that there was a bird under the bed, so he brought George to me. No one at the house thought that I would be allowed to take him on the boat. But when rescuers saw us in rags and I told them little George was all we had left, they said by all means, take him with you.
They took us in small boats for about a mile to where the bridge had washed out. We got out on the road and waited for Army trucks to come after us. We waited there for over two hours, as they were taking the hurt, the aged and mother with young children first. We rode about 14 miles on the truck; then we were transferred to a school truck and brought in to Lake Charles. Daddy had just registered at the Red Cross when someone grabbed us and it was Francis and Alton (two of the Coast Survey men who had been there all day checking every possible source to see if they could find a trace of us). Their voices sounded wonderful to us. They took us to Al's and they gave us clothes so we could take a shower and get cleaned up. Bonny fixed dinner, but I wasn't too hungry. All that I wanted was something cool to drink. That was Friday evening about 7 o'clock and we hadn't any food or water since Wednesday night, except Friday when the trucks came in they brought water to us in milk cartons.
Francis brought us to Opelousas that night to Commander and Mrs. Rubottom's. They have been so wonderful to us. They just couldn't do enough for us and they still are. I am even using Commander's reading glasses as I lost mine. It is hard to repay the kindness they have shown us, but maybe we can do for others a small part of what they done for us. They have fed and clothed us and we are truly grateful to each and every one of them.
We rented a nice apartment Tuesday. Our landlady has gone out of the way to be nice to us.
John Reed and two of the fellows got permission to go back to Cameron Monday A.M. to see if they could salvage any of the government equipment. They drove out to the beach where we had lived and there wasn't even a board left of all the houses there. It was as if no one had ever lived there.
The people in the storm were the bravest people I have ever seen. We were about the only ones there who hadn't lost some of their family. We saw a few tears but I think that most of them were in shock.
Losing all of our things hasn't worried us. We are just thankful and grateful to God that our lives were spared. Everything looks so beautiful to us now. All we can say is, "Thank you God, for your mercy."
When Hurricane Audrey, the first hurricane of the season, hit extreme southwestern Louisiana, John R. Smith and Howard A. Edward's on Commander Ira Rubottom's field party at Opelousas, Louisiana, were on a detached party working at Cameron. Mr. and Mrs. Smith were living at this time at Cameron and Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were living at St. Charles, fifty miles away. Opelousas, about 100 miles distant, was swept by winds up to 90 miles an hour. Hundreds of people in the bayou area were killed or missing, homes ripped and twisted, and Cameron with a population of 3000 was left desolate.
All government equipment, instruments, and survey records in use on the project at Cameron were caught in the devastation of Hurricane Audrey and lost or considered destroyed beyond practical salvage. Practically all instruments and equipment recoverable were those that had been packed and stored in the truck which was battered to such an extent that entry was extremely difficult. The office trailer was almost completely destroyed - one whole side ripped away, cabinets, desk, etc. had been washed away and the interior filled with mud nearly a foot deep and all manner of debris. The trailer and truck, which had been hitched together, had the remains of the roof of a large store building on top of them. The jeep was found several hundred yards from where it was parked and was lying on its side half buried in mud. No trace was found of the 16-foot aluminum skiff or its trailer. A verbal estimate from a local junk dealer in Opelousas was $100 for both the truck and jeep delivered in Opelousas.
Few people have undergone such a harrowing experience and lived to tell about it so vividly as Mrs. Smith has done in "MY BATTLE WITH AUDREY." Everyone extends best wishes to Mr. and Mrs. Smith for a return to normal and happy living.
In: "Personnel Panorama, Vol. VI, No. 7, pp. 3, 6. July-August 1957.