Cheniere Caminada Hurricane
A late-season hurricane struck Cheniere Caminada in early October 1893, becoming one of Louisiana’s deadliest hurricanes.
On October 2, 1893, a late-season hurricane struck South Louisiana’s barrier islands at the mouth of Barataria Bay. With a direct hit on Cheniere Caminada, the hurricane brought with it a sixteen-foot storm surge that drowned residents, livestock, crops, and property, effectively wiping the fishing village off the map. By today’s estimate the Cheniere Caminada storm was a Category 4 hurricane at landfall, leaving over 2,000 dead across the region and making it one of Louisiana’s deadliest hurricanes.
That fateful Sunday in October Cheniere Caminada, a well-established fishing community roughly a mile wide and two and a half miles long, had been by all accounts a beautiful one. Mid-afternoon, though, the weather shifted, sending seagulls and pelicans racing inland from the sea. Cattle grazing in marshy grasses also started moving inland as the rains began. By the middle of the night extreme winds picked up, followed by further rain, making it clear a massive hurricane was moving onshore. Throughout the night the 1,471 residents of Cheniere Caminada attempted to ride out the storm. As a sixteen-foot storm surge swept through the region, this task grew difficult on a marshy peninsula that frequently turned into an island when inundated with water. Around 3 a.m. the storm’s impact started to dissipate, leaving wreckage behind in its path as it continued through Barataria Bay and toward the Mississippi River.
As news of the catastrophic storm spread to New Orleans, shock emanated across the state. The New Orleans newspapers the Picayune and the Times-Democrat both chartered boats to load with supplies, medicine, ice, and water to send to the damaged areas. Rescue parties headed west to wreckage sites fearing the worst for the barrier islands like Cheniere Caminada and neighboring Grand Isle, the latter a popular summertime resort for New Orleans residents. Grand Isle was mostly spared, suffering property damage to the now-empty resort hotels and venues and a comparatively small loss of life (estimated at twenty-eight to thirty dead). Neighboring Cheniere Caminada, however, was a different story. When rescue teams arrived they found the island’s residents battered by saltwater and struggling to survive. As reported by Rose C. Falls in Cheniere Caminada, Or, The Wind of Death: The Story of the Storm in Louisiana, seawater swept “every mouthful of food and every drop of fresh water; for these people had neither wells nor springs, and drank only rainwater caught and stored in cask-like cisterns of staves and hoops, which stood above ground.” Moreover, of the 1,471 residents in occupation before the storm, only 696 survived. Death was everywhere on the island, especially as the local cemetery had flooded, splitting open graves just as new ones were to be added.
Further inland from Cheniere Caminada the hurricane had continued to wreak havoc, as Falls reports. Grand Terre residents had to take refuge at Fort Livingston. Along the lower Mississippi River, the storm destroyed at least ten plantations, decimating sugar cane and rice crops, and drowning animals with excessive water. Former Louisiana Governor Henry C. Warmouth’s plantation, Magnolia, saw significant damage to its orange groves, estimated at $25,000. In the majority African American communities of Point Celeste and Tropical Bend, excessive damage to church structures and losses of life were reminders of hurricanes’ damage even further inland. In Pointe-à-la-Hache tornadoes caused by the storm struck houses in the town, ripped up the newly finished jail and courthouse, and overturned cars. The state’s Quarantine Station also saw significant damage, estimated at $100,000, as tugboats and ships were wrecked in the wake of the storm.
The storm’s damage extended from Louisiana to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama. However, as the residents of Cheniere Caminada were the hardest hit by the storm, they counted their losses and tried, unsuccessfully, to rebuild. Within a few years many of its residents relocated elsewhere, and today not much remains of the community that existed before the storm. Due to its linked and devastating history with the fishing village, the storm is now referred to as Cheniere Caminada Hurricane of 1893.
While Cheniere Caminada was effectively wiped off the map, the story of the 1893 storm lives on in three significant written pieces. The first two were written shortly after the storm by Louisiana author Kate Chopin, who frequently spent summers at neighboring Grand Isle. Her short story “At Cheniere Caminada” was written in the days following the storm as Chopin heard about the efforts to rescue and relieve its residents. Her most well-known work, The Awakening, is a novel set a year before the storm’s impact in Grand Isle and effectively eulogizes the residents and village of Cheniere Caminada before the catastrophic disaster. In both works Chopin references, either directly or indirectly, the impact the hurricane had on Cheniere Caminada and its people.
A final work published the same year as the storm is Falls’s aforementioned Cheniere Caminada, Or, The Wind of Death, a collection of reports of Cheniere Caminada residents about their experiences during the hurricane. In reviewing the storm’s impact, Falls takes note of the displacement faced by the residents of Cheniere Caminada and the legacy of the storm as one of Louisiana’s deadliest hurricanes.
Only two other storms prior resembled Cheniere Caminada Hurricane of 1893: the October 4, 1886 storm on Johnson’s Bayou and Sabine Pass, which claimed the lives of fifty people and hundreds of cattle, and the Last Island Hurricane of August 1856, which caused two hundred deaths on the famed resort island. Neither approached the more than 2,000 dead of the storm to which Cheniere Caminada lends its name.