Last Island, LA Hurricane, Aug 1856
GREAT CALAMITY IN THE SOUTH.
The extent of the terrible calamity in the South, produced by the hurricane which swept the whole coasts of the Gulf of Mexico west of the mouth of Mississippi, exceed our worst apprehensions. Already it has been ascertained that at least one hundred and eighty persons have been swept into eternity by the storms and the floods. The lost embrace the very best families in the South, and include an unusual number of women and children. Last Island is the last of a chain of islands which stretch westward from the mouth of the Mississippi and is about midway between New Orleans and Galveston. It is a narrow sand-bar about twenty miles long and about one and a half miles wide, and about twenty miles from the mainland. A scant begetation, with a few stunted and gnarled live oaks, mark at a distance the locality. The remainder is white hard sand, and the beach around afforded one of the most beautiful rides in the world. The bathing in the noble surf of the Gulf was not equalled in the country, and with the uniform delightful exhilarating temperature of the sea breeze and the abundance of all marine luxuries rendered it a very attractive resport for the planters, who live on the west bank of the Mississippi and the various bayous communicating with the Gulf. Attention has been called of late to the superior attractions of this place, and arrangements had been made last summer by the proprietors of the St. Charles Hotel, in New Orleans, to erect a large hotel there, to which their servants and properties were to be transferred from the city during the summer months. This scheme was only prevented by the uncertainty of the tides to the property. Had it been carried out, this recent calamity would have been greater than it has been. Except a small hotel where a few boarders lodged, the settlements on the island consisted almost entirely of wealthy planters with their families who resided in little one-story cottages. Many of these families consisted altogether of females, children and servants, the males being absent attending to their plantations, or at the Northmaking purchases.
Such an accumulation of perils and horrors as fell upon those unfortunate people on the 10th and 11th of August, is not paralled by any similar casualty in our history. The island seemed doomed. It presented a scene which is only pictured in those imaginary representations of incidents in the destruction of the antedeluvian race, or of the populations of Herculaeneum and Pompeii, when submerged by the lava of Vesuvius. First came the tempest, which leveled all the dwellings and tore up all the trees, burying many of the dwellers in the ruins and maiming and bruising others; then followed the floods to complete the ruin so effectuarlly begun. First, the northeast wind brought the water from the bay which separates the island from the main land, and drove all the people to the other or gulf side. Then the capricious element shifted to the south, and the billows of the gulf came raging with savage fury from that direction, forcing back the despairing people, until they were assembled on the narrow slip of elevated ground in the center of the island. The flood soon reached there, and rapidly settled over the whole island, driving all who were strong enough to make their way through the billows, as a last refuge, to the wreck of a little steamer, which, by the aid of its anchors, was with great difficulty held in its place. All who reached the wreck were saved. Many succumbed to the waters on their way to it. Strong, stalwart men lost their lives in attempts to rescue women and children, and many were disabled by wounds from falling timbers of houses, or from the limbs of trees and other objects that were hurled against them by the shifting winds.
We can imagine no more terrible scenes than those which this island exhibited during the thirty hours of the prevalence of the winds and floods. In that time the island became invisible, the waters settling over it.
The Picayune thus eloquently concludes its recital of this terrible calamity:
"The list of the lost and the saved will show anybody acquainted with this State that there was gathered upon this little spot in the Gulf, at the time of the storm, a large representation of the wealth and intelligence of the best classes of the population of Louisiana. They made the barren sand-bank the seat of refinement and hospitality, where in a single day, almost in a single hour, death came in his most hideous form and swept one half of them into a nameless grave, and made the whole place desolate forever. The memory of this storm, which has carried mourning into every parish in South Louisiana for the untimely fate of kindred or dear feiends, will, for many a year to come, repel with a shudder all thought of Last Island for a dwelling place. Every murmur of the cooling surf, in its quietest mood; and every sign of the summer breeze, in its balmiest breathing, will be a saddening memento of the time when a happy crowd were gathered there for innocent enjoyment, and the storm came suddenly and heaped the waters upon them. The sea and the winds will seem to chant an eternal dirge for the dead."
This terrible occurrence affords an additional evidence of that great lack of prudence, of thoughtfulness and remembrance of the warnings of the past, which is the characteristic of our race. The danger and insecurity of these island settlements in the Gulf of Mexico were painfully illustrated a few years ago, when an island about a hundred miles west of Last Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the Chandeleurs, was desolated by a storm and flood strikingly similar in all their features and consequences to the recent calamity. Almost every person on the island perished, and the island itself was nearly destroyed. But, alas such occurrences are soon forgotten, and casualty follows casualty without teaching wisdom or prudence to our thoughtless and reckless people.
New Orleans is again afflicted. The floods from the Lake Ponchartrain, in the rear of the city, have been driven by the eastern winds into the city and have submerged the suburbs. In many parts of the city the people can only reach their houses in boats. The extent of this calamity and its consequences are thus detailed by the reporter of one of the city papers:
"We managed, however, to get along slowly quietly, but uncomfortably -- an occasional dip contributed not a little to give a darker hue to the color in which our sketching friend had determined on dressing out his picture. Alternately, we visited Clio, Callipoe, Erato, Thalia, Melpomene streets, and far away to the upper extreme of the city on the other side of Melpomene Canal. Then on our return, sounded the depth of Claiborne, Clary, St. Martin, Maunsel, Locust, Freret and Howard streets as far as Liberty, and passed through all without encountering an obstacle. In our route we stopped at many a door and inclosure to take a close survey of the ravages which the sudden overflow had committed in this section of the city, and were more than surprised at finding that our friends had not exagerated their extent. On every side fences were thrown down, furniture huddled together in the most indiscribable confusion, houses abandoned, and everything we saw indicated an unpleasant visit from the watery element. An unwholesome thing this overflow is in New Orleans, suggestive of wet feet, pneumonia and a thousand other evils."
"But we have not time to be descriptive. The cry of the hungry orphan appeals to our sympathies, and it must be responded to. In more than one place we found widows with three, four, five, and sometimes six children, without any visible means of support. They depended solely on the sympathy and charity of their opulent neighbors. With no provision made, they would certainly have become the victims of the scourge that has visited them, were it not for the charitable interposition of their friends. As our morose ferryman rowed us along, we were able to hear the cry of many a young sufferer, and felt for him in our hearts. It was plaintive, suggestive, full of melancholy, so full that it would have touched the heart of the most worldly minded."
This is truly an afflicted city. Last year at this time it suffered greatly from the drouth. Bankruptcies, and a general and most serious interruption of trade were produced by the low stage of water in the rivers and bayous. This year, when the usual scourge of yellow-fever had ceased to afflict the city -- the calamity of an overflow falls upon the people. Some years ago the city was overflowed from the river, which broke through the crevasse and submerged a third of the town; now, the inundation is from the Lake. It appears to be impossible for a year to pass around without bringing some affliction on New Orleans.
The Defiance Democrat Ohio 1856-09-06
Transcriber's Note: It is believed over 200 people perished in this disaster.