by Christine Baker
I’ve lived a lifetime in Louisiana, fifty-one years in this sportsman’s paradise, this land of swamps, trees and prairies where mosquitoes, jazz music, creole descendants, french speakers and delicious tasting food you can’t get anywhere else, dwell. Yet, if there’s one thing we Louisiana people know, but don’t necessarily like to talk too much about, it’s the fact that this great state here deep in the south, where the crawfish and rice are steamy and piled high on the plate, is home to great big scary storms called hurricanes.
As a child, I can remember, even before I was allowed to sit at the adult table and take part in adult conversations, hearing stories of notorious storms that had ripped past Louisiana’s coastline, barreled through precious land and left destruction and death in her wake.
Long before I was born, Hurricane Audrey made a name for herself. She was a category 3 storm that hit Cameron Parish in June 27,1957. Her total death toll was 431 people and she left behind an estimated $150 million in total damages.
I was six months old when Hurricane Camille made an appearance. She was a category 5 storm that occurred on or around August 14, 1969, in the southeastern corner of Louisiana and our sister-state, Mississippi. Her total destruction left behind 259 deaths and an estimated $1.42 billion in total damages.
A more recent destructive storm that comes to mind is Hurricane Katrina. She came in at a category 5 storm that hit New Orleans and the surrounding area. Her death toll was 1800 and a whopping estimated $125 billion in total damages.
I’ve lived through many other not so well-known storms, too. In 1992, while finishing up a degree at USL, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Morgan City as a category 5 storm. The total death count of the storm was 65 and total damages were estimated at $27.3 billion. Hurricane Rita comes to mind, too, a storm that occurred two weeks after Hurricane Katrina and left southwest Louisiana with catastrophic flooding and wind damage.
Anyone who lives or has lived in Louisiana for any length of time, has a knee deep list of storms they know personally or have heard of, deep in their memory bank. These are times of loss, death, fear and uncertainty;times of sweat, destruction, hand holding and hand-reaching out to help rebuild. This is all a part of the history of the land I love. You can’t take her luscious gumbos and spicy boudin, steaming seafood and Cajun dances without her storms. They are as much a part of the land as they are the people – a people who know how to bow a knee and weather through adversity. A people who know what it’s like to work, save, lose and start all over again. A people who know how to give even when all they’ve had is lost. Louisiana’s history cannot be undone, nor should it ever be hidden. She is a beautiful, loving place. But, from time to time, she hurts and then heals.
Hurricane Laura, a category 4 storm, just blew through parts of this land I love. We are reeling from her wind and rain. Smoke and debris abound. The death count is at 42 and estimated damages peek around $10 billion. She came in the night while most of us slept. In fact, I never heard her.Oh, but in the morning, in the light of day, it was clear she had been here. She left her mark everywhere she went. New generations are abounding in her wake, being introduced to tenacity and perseverance, one from another. If you listen closely, you might even hear, “Mais, put on your boots and work gloves. Spray some mosquito dope, and bring your chainsaw. Oh, and honey, cook some rice and gravy. The neighbors are here to help.”
As fire tests and purifies gold, so, too, the storms of Louisiana test her people . . . and after the test, Louisiana will once again shine bright for all to see.