The coastline in Southwest Louisiana consists of narrow ridges no more tan 100 feet across and often not more tan three feet in elevation. North of the coastal ridge, land is at or near sea level for some 15-20 miles inland, making residents sitting ducks for a deadly Category Four hurricane.
At 10 p.m. CST on Wednesday, June 26, 1957, the U.S. Weather Bureau in New Orleans issued its regular advisory on Hurricane Audrey in the Gulf of Mexico, some 235 miles south of Lake Charles, Louisiana. The advisor stated that the storm would “bear the brunt of this hurricane Thursday.” Residents along the low lying coast of southwest Louisiana’s Cameron Parish listened to late evening news broadcasts on radio and television that told them there was no cause for alarm during the overnight hours and that they could rest well that night. Residents went to bed believing this to be the case.
Many residents would later state that they listened to the broadcasts and advisories and packed their cars, ready to leave the following morning. At 1 a.m., a special advisory was issued, stating that Hurricane Audrey was moving faster and was expected to reach the coast near the Louisiana/Texas border with winds of 100 mph and a 5-9 foot storm surge in the Lake Charles and Port Arthur area before noon that day.
They would be very surprised the next morning to find water covering much of their parish as Audrey was already impacting the area and the center was just offshore. Audrey had intensified rapidly during the night, with the central pressure dropping 35 millibars from the last reconnaissance fix during the day. Winds correspondingly increased to 145 mph and the storm surge rose from an expected 5-8 feet to a devastating 12 feet or higher. Additionally, the forward movement of the hurricane increased from 6 mph to 15 mph.
Audrey officially made landfall around 9 a.m. CST on the coast in Cameron Parish. A total of 390 people would die in the hurricane and another 192 would never be found. The U.S. Weather Bureau was sued for negligence, but prevailed in the final judgment.
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