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A group of oaks . . . I remember as especially suggestive: five stooping silhouettes in line against the horizon, like fleeing women with streaming garments and wind-blown hair,—bowing grievously and thrusting out arms desperately northward as to save themselves from falling. And they are being pursued indeed;—for the sea is devouring the land… Lafcadio Hearn, Chita: A Memory of Last Island

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The barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico have been submerged on a regular basis since time immemorial – after all they started out as sandbars – and to prevent this the only solution is a grade raising such as was completed in Galveston after the 1900 Storm. The Storm of 1856 that struck a glancing blow at Isle Derniere before proceeding to devastate New Iberia was probably of equal intensity and the only reasons why it is not as infamous as the 1900 Storm is because it struck a less populated area and there were not so many reporters anxious to rush to the scenes of destruction and feast with the vultures. The poor of New Orleans – including my great-great-grandfather and his family – survived although the storm decimated the sugar growers in the planter society and this was no small loss since nearly two thirds of the millionaires in the U.S. lived in Louisiana at that time.

This book is a good source of anecdotal evidence about the storm but when Sallenger wanders into preaching about climate change it descends into polemic and proves that the best reading about the storm is still Last Days of Last Island, by Bill Dixon or, if you prefer fiction (or at least an account honestly identified as non-factual),  Lafcadio Hearn‘s Chita: A Memory of Last Island which was based  on sugar planter Michael Shlatre’s contemporary account of the storm is the most readily accessible book on the subject.

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Island in a storm: a rising sea, a vanishing coast, and a nineteenth century disaster that warns of a warmer world New York: PublicAffairs, c 2009 Abby Sallenger Hurricanes Louisiana Isles Dernieres Hardcover. 1st. ed. later printing. 284 p.: ill., maps; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 259-272) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In the summer of 1853 explosions rocked New Orleans. The mayor ordered cannons fired and barrels of tar set aflame in a desperate attempt to rid the city of yellow fever. Those with the means fled. Many of them traveled to Isle Derniere, an emerging island retreat on the Gulf of Mexico, presuming it a safe haven. Then, without warning, on August 10, 1856, a hurricane swept across the island, killing most of its 400 inhabitants. The Isle Derniere, already a narrow ribbon of sand, was devastated. What remained was a forest stranded in the sea, a sign of a land that would eventually vanish. Island in a Storm is the riveting true story of the people who faced this fierce hurricane, their bravery and cowardice, luck and misfortune, life and death. It chronicles a coast in perpetual motion and a rising sea that made the Isle Derniere particularly vulnerable to a great hurricane.

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