The nightmare of 1957’s Hurricane Audrey
Before Katrina and Rita, and even before Betsy and Camille, there was Hurricane Audrey, a Category 4 storm that roared ashore between the Sabine River and Cameron on June 27, 1957. According to the National Weather Service, Audrey killed upwards of 500 people, the highest death toll since the unnamed New England hurricane of 1938, in which 682 people perished. (Hurricane Katrina claimed more than 1,800 deaths when it struck in 2005.)
Hurricanes are still seasonal threats to Louisiana’s receding coastline, but forecasting is more sophisticated and communication is much better, even to areas that were remote 60 years ago. Also, as a result of Audrey, people learned the importance of preparing for storms and getting out of harm’s way. Case in point: While Audrey killed more than 500 people — the exact toll probably will never be known because so many perished in the storm surges — there was only one death related to Hurricane Rita, a Category 3 storm, in 2005, according to Weather Underground. The reason, according to the website, was better communication and the widespread understanding of the importance of evacuation.
- Audrey, which packed winds as high as 150 mph, became the most powerful June storm on record. That record stands, according to the National Weather Service, which says Audrey is the only major storm to hit the United States in June.
- The storm stands as the seventh-deadliest hurricane to hit the United States.
- Audrey’s damage was estimated at $147 million, the equivalent of nearly $1.3 billion today.
- His correct prediction of the path of Audrey help put now-legendary WWL-TV weather forecaster Nash Roberts on the map. His subsequent predictions of hurricanes Betsy and Camille further cemented his status.
- While some of Cameron’s residents were determined to stay put, the crawfish knew better. According to Weather Underground, thousands of mudbugs started streaming out of the marshes as the storm approached because they could sense a sea-surface temperature up to 3 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.
- Audrey’s massive storm surge spread from Cameron Parish to the southern halves of Vermilion, Iberia and St. Mary parishes, according to the National Weather Service.
- Audrey fell apart as quickly as it had formed. Once inland, it dissipated on June 29. But it didn’t go quietly. It spawned 23 tornadoes that killed two people and injured 14 others in Mississippi and Alabama, and it brought hurricane-force winds as far east as St. Albans, Vt.
Even though Hurricane Audrey struck the other side of the state from New Orleans, it has important lessons for anyone living where hurricanes might strike: Pay attention to weather reports as the storm develops, and be ready to evacuate if your area seems threatened.