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Riding Out The Storm

It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean water broken
Before God's last put out the light was spoken

Robert Frost

Hours of waiting pass beneath the darkened sky. The house is quiet and your mind begins to wander into strange places. Reflections of the recent past and how it will impact the future begins to play in review. Along with the fresh scars of life, old memories of tales from long ago, of people and places playing out as echoes across the depths of your memory. This is just as it has been for generations during the calm before the storm.

A fearful storm approaches as the angry yellow clouds gather. If you breathe deeply you can taste the salt. With another breath there is another sensation of something fresh, something cold in the breeze, the scent of lightning. With all terrible storms there is great loss but also survival. Something more than surviving the power outages of a near miss, something as dramatic as suffering real loss in your life. The deep scar of a loss of something you love and can't replace.

The most terrible storm ever to cross the cost in these parts isn't a part of history children read about in school, in fact not many would recognize the when or where of the damage.done. This was in an era where life was simple and time was slow. The big storms were much more of a mystery than in today's age of satellite imagery and the Internet. On a small island near Grand Isle, Louisiana there was a thriving fishing village of 1,470 people. The popoulation supported their families by fishing for oysters in the spring and fall, shrimping in the summer and hunting and trapping in the winter months. They were an eclectic community, not Cajun as many settlements in the general area, but a mix of immigrants and assorted settlers escaping city life for the meager existence of the bayou. The community included a modest one room school and a church. Many of the homes were makeshift with thatched roof of Palmetto leaves. A few were of more substantial construction.

The great hurricane of 1893 struck without warning. The people of Cheniere Caminada had survived many years by applying their practical understanding of nature to predict the coming of storms from the Gulf of Mexico. This storm came out of the southwest across the tip of Louisiana following a cold front, we now call a low pressure trough, an atmospheric highway for the giant engine of destruction. Perhaps a near miss from a storm several weeks before or the lateness in the hurricane season combined with the false sense of security from the passage of a cold front left the people of the island in the marsh blind to the storm, which suddenly descended on the evening October 1, 1893. The effects of this false sense of security would prove fatal for many and change their way of life forever.

Eight feet of water suddenly raged over the Cheniere as the winds of the storm buffeted the small structures of the village. The local priest, Father Grimeaux, survived the ordeal by hanging on to a sill of an open upper story window. For hours he watched and listened as the desperate cries of his parishioners could be heard over the den of the fury of the storm. Desolation was all around. Houses floated by in ruin. He began to see bodies in the seething waters. As time passed there were to many to count. Some women held infants and many older children clung to the arms or tresses of their mothers. As the children would become exhausted they would release their hold and be carried away by the water after a last frantic adieu. Some survivors clung to floating debris. The storm mercifully subsided by 3 a.m. Of the near 1.500 people who died in the storm near 800 where residents of Camanadaville. Most of those lost were children.

In the succeeding years the survivors of Cheniere Camanada dispersed and became parts of nearby communities and productive in their new lives. The scars of the loss remained but they focused on survival in their new lives. The area is still identifiable if you are driving on Highway One near Grand Isle and the bell from the church of Camanadaville hangs in a Grand Isle church.

The passing of Hurricane Ivan reminds us how lucky we are to have not been in the path of the storm... this time. Cheniere Caminada reminds us of the pain of loss from the storms raging in our own lives. Just like the people of Camanadaville, when the storms of life create life altering change you must adapt and move on with your life. All people face these changes at some point in time. Life is about how we cope with the new circumstance and being resilient. Remembering the past is important. The past is our heritage and has deep influences on our culture. The people of Cheniere Caminada lost much but the survivors continued their way of life creating a proud heritage for future generations. We can't change the past. We make the best choices possible in the present and plan for the future. This is true of us all.