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 4 hurricane. "My Battle With Audrey" is a survivor's
story of this terrifying event.
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
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
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
Francis brought us to Opelousa 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
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 Opelousa,
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. Opelousa,
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 Opelousa was $100 for both the truck
and jeep delivered in Opelousa.
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.