This section is about hurricanes in Louisiana. It will describe where, when, and
how a hurricane forms and how hurricanes live and travel as well as what to
expect as a hurricane hits land. Included is a list of recorded hurricanes that have crossed the Louisiana coastline since the 1700's.
Even though hurricanes are very powerful and dangerous storms, men don't have to perish in them the way they did years ago. People have learned from the past and with the early warnings we receive today, we have the time to get out of a hurricane's path.
THE BEGINNING OF A HURRICANE
The Gulf Coast area, including Louisiana, has a constant threat. That threat is a powerful and dangerous storm that American Indians referred to as a "huracan". Hurricanes begin where the sea becomes the warmest. Places near the equator get more sunlight than other parts of the earth so they are the warmest. The storms that affect us form in an area north of the equator from the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic Ocean to the western Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The water must reach a temperature of about 80 degrees before a hurricane can form. That is the reason why these storms can occur anytime between June and November but happen mostly in August, September, and October. There has been exceptions to the rule, with storms of hurricane intensity occurring well outside this period of the year.
During the months of May and June, the tendency is for most hurricanes to form in the western Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean. In July, they are more likely to form in the Atlantic Ocean from the Windward Islands northwest toward the east coast of Florida. In August, most storms are born farther in the Atlantic, with only an occasional one originating in the Caribbean. During September, the area of formation extends from far out into the Atlantic all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. In October, there is a sharp reduction in the number of hurricanes but those that do form are likely to be scattered all over the map from the mid-Atlantic down to the Lesser Antilles and well up into the Gulf of Mexico. Research indicates that there are more hurricanes in the years when the water is warmer than average.
There are four general stages to a hurricane. First, there is the Formative Stage which occurs with an organized circulation that ends only when the speed of wind has reached hurricane intensity. Second, there is the Immaturity Stage which is the period when the hurricane is actually growing to maximum intensity. Third, there is the Mature Stage when the storm is no longer growing and the greatest area is covered by gale and hurricane force winds. Fourth, there is the Decay Stage when the hurricane begins to weaken or break-up as it moves inland or into cooler water.
A hurricane starts as an area of low air pressure. Atmospheric pressure is the weight of air. It is measured with a barometer. There is a pressure change before a storm. Barometers detect approaching storms by measuring such changes. Just as water runs downhill, air moves from an area of higher pressure to one of lower pressure. The greater the difference in the atmospheric pressure in adjoining areas, the harder the wind blows. In the tropics a barometer at sea level ordinarily registers about 30 inches of pressure. The pressure in a hurricane will range from 28.94 inches in a Category 1 hurricane to 27.17 inches in a Category 5 hurricane.
The water in the tropics get very warm and so does the air above them. The warm air picks up a lot of water through evaporation. The trouble begins when cooler air from two different directions and on different levels moves in and starts the rising hot air spinning. The cooler air rushing in also gets warmer and starts to spin. As it spins it gets hotter, and as it rises it picks up more and more moisture from the sea below it. Hurricanes have a whole ocean of water to draw on. That is why hurricanes are the world's greatest rain makers. At first, the wind blows slowly but as more air rushes in, the wind blows harder and faster. The spinning air rises faster and faster. The moisture it has picked up from the ocean condenses, which means that the water vapor comes together to form droplets of water. As the water vapor condenses, it throws off heat, which makes the air spin still faster. The heat causes it to speed up. Air molecules are flung to the outside of the spinning wheel, so the pressure in the center gets very low. The winds that have developed around this low-pressure system have now formed a tropical storm. When the winds at the center of the tropical storm reach a speed of 74 miles per hour it earns the name "hurricane".
THE LIFE OF A HURRICANE
A hurricane has two main parts. One main part of a hurricane is the calm core or eye around which air swirls upward like smoke through a chimney. The eye of an average hurricane is about fourteen miles in diameter but eyes two times that size are not unusual. The eye has few clouds. The second main part of a hurricane is the storm clouds called wall clouds which surround the eye. The strongest and fiercest winds and heaviest rain of a hurricane occur within its wall clouds. Farther out past these two main parts are rain bands, called feeder bands, and clusters of thunderstorms which also can carry tornadoes. These rain bands encircling the eye may cover an area more than one hundred miles in diameter and its effect may extend for thousands of miles. The winds of a hurricane blow counter clockwise. The wind is the strongest in the front semi-circle of the hurricane for there the winds speed is increased by the movement itself.
Scientists think it is heat energy that drives the winds of a hurricane. Heat comes into the storm from the warm tropical water beneath the hurricane. When the heat is cut off, the storm dies. This happens when a hurricane moves inland or moves north over colder water. Without a supply of heat energy from tropical water the strength of the storm becomes less, so scientists believe that if the amount of evaporation of water from the ocean under a hurricane could be reduced the force from the storm should also be lessened. They are working on ways that they may be able to do this.
Unlike other storms which have a short life span, hurricanes may live for weeks. The average life span for all hurricanes of the North Atlantic Ocean is nine and a half days. August hurricanes are usually the longest, with an average life of twelve days. July and November hurricanes last about eight days.
THE MOVEMENT OF A HURRICANE
Hurricanes are not surprises any more as they were many years ago. Weather satellites take pictures of the earth and the clouds above it. When weather watchers see dark clouds taking the shape of a doughnut, four or five hundred miles across, they start a Hurricane Watch.
Hour after hour they keep track of the doughnut shaped cloud to see if it is getting bigger and which way the center of the cloud is moving. Sometimes a weather plane flies right into the doughnut shaped clouds. The flight is rough and dangerous but it is the only way to see how fast and strong the storm is. The plane flies into the "hole" of the doughnut, which, as stated earlier, is called the eye of the hurricane. There the air is calm and sunlight may stream into it. The plane will continue flying right through the clouds, and out the other side. Instruments in the plane measure important information such as air temperature, air pressure, and how much water there is in the clouds. Weather watchers can then inform the people about the storm so that they can take the necessary steps to prepare for the storm if it is heading in their direction.
Hurricanes follow erratic courses. They often wander around in the ocean far from land for several days before disintegrating, and sometimes cutting a wide path of flooding and destruction across land. The forward speed of the storms varies widely and so does the size. Some hurricanes are spread over large areas, while some concentrate fierce winds and rains over a small path.
The eye of the hurricane normally travels at speeds of ten to thirty miles per hour. Most hurricanes move westward at first and become larger and stronger as they travel. Then they will pick up speed as they turn from the equator. Most hurricanes turn east after they reach temperate latitudes and if they do not cross a continent they many end as weak storm centers over cool oceans.
While a storm is over a warm sea, the upward flow of hot moist air provides fuel for the hurricanes power system. When a hurricane passes over an island it is cut off briefly from its power source and the friction exerted by land also has a weakening
effect, but ordinarily storms do not die while crossing an island. When their course takes them over continents, hurricanes cannot survive. Eventually the hurricanes engine stops for lack of fuel. But sometimes the remnant of a hurricane joins up with a continental storm and adds to its power. Even when dying, a hurricane may continue to be a killer. As a storm travels over land it may drop such heavy rains that large areas are flooded. The deaths and property damage resulting from this flooding may be as great, or greater, than the losses caused along the coast by hurricane force winds and waves.
COMING IN CONTACT WITH LAND
As the hurricane approaches the land, the people there will see that the wind begins blowing in violent gusts. The clouds will thicken and hide the sky. Winds and rain, combined with the force of the sea, produce huge waves. These waves are called storm waves. These huge waves will begin to pound the beach, spilling over onto the land and cutting off evacuation routes in the low-lying coastal areas. The storm is especially destructive if it hits land at high tide.
In addition to the towering storm waves, the hurricane is also carrying along a minor mountain of ocean inside the eye called the storm surge. The storm surge is the deadliest part of a hurricane. More than three-fourths of all deaths caused by hurricanes are the result of the storm surge. "The air pressure is so low in the eye, where the updraft is sucking upward, that the ocean levels
rises inside it just the way liquid rises into a straw. The level of the water may be no more than a foot higher than the ocean elsewhere." But, keep in mind, the average hurricane's eye is 14 miles in diameter. The water in that area can weigh as much as a small mountain which is more than four and a half billion tons. "A cubic yard of water weighs about three-fourths of a ton and a wave traveling at only twenty miles an hour has a battering force of more that eight hundred pounds per square feet. During severe hurricanes, waves may move at speeds as high as fifty or sixty miles per hour. The destructive power of waves is increased by the tree trunks, parts of houses, and other debris that they carry in and drive through whatever is in their path."
As a hurricane moves over land, strong winds and heavy rain will hit the area for several hours. As the eye reaches the area, the rain stops and the air becomes calm. The air is balmy within the eye of the hurricane. The sky overhead may be clear and blue. The eye and the terrible winds that circle it may pause for an hour or less, or they may even pause for up to half a day. Then, as the eye passes, the wind and rain return. "When hurricane winds striJrn a building and pass over and around it, they exert both positive and negative forces.
On the side of the building that the winds strike it pushes in, and on the opposite side it sucks out. The total of these two forces may be almost twice that of the winds' direct pressure. And that pressure alone is tremendous. Winds blowing at two hundred miles an hour exert more than a ton of pressure on each ten square feet of the windward side of the building. An opening on that side adds to the winds' destructive power by increasing the positive pressure within the building."
Sometimes as much rain will fall in a hurricane in one day as some cities get in a whole year. Heavy rains can continue even after the winds decrease. One full-grown hurricane can produce five hundred million million horsepower, which is over three million times as much as the power produced by all the electric generators in the United States put together. So it is not surprising that a hurricane is considered the most powerful and destructive kind of storm.
Hurricanes are put into five categories depending on the speed of the wind
Winds of 96 to 110 mph with a storm surge of 6 to 8 feet above normal.
Winds of 111 to 130 mph with a storm surge of 9 to 12 feet above normal.
Winds of 131 to 155 mph with a storm surge of 13 to 18 feet above normal.
Winds of over 155 mph with a storm surge of over 18 feet above normal. Catastrophic Damage
Winds of 74 to 95 mph with a storm surge of 4 to 5 feet above normal.
CATEGORY 1 CATEGORY 2 CATEGORY 3 CATEGORY 4 CATEGORY 5
HURRICANES IN LOUISIANA
Louisiana has had its share of hurricanes. There are records of four hurricanes that were recorded in the 1700's and five hurricanes that were recorded in the 1800's. "The southern coastal area near the Mississippi River delta has historically been the most frequent victim of hurricanes. Since 1886, twenty-three hurricanes have struck the coastal region directly south of New Orleans; in the same
time period, only fourteen hit the southwest coast near the Texas border. The lowest hurricane incidence has been recorded for the southwestern corner of the state, with only three of the ocean spawned storms reaching that distance since 1886."
One particular hurricane dated August 19, 1812, hit the Louisiana coast around Grand Isle. It was referred to as "The Great Louisiana Hurricane". It was recorded to have pushed saltwater seventy-five miles upriver.
Another famous hurricane was on August 10, 1856, and hit Last Island. This hurricane completely cleared Last Island of all property and most of its trees. Last Island at that time was a vacation spot for many people. It was never rebuilt after the hurricane. There was no way of knowing how many lives were lost during this storm but it was at least one hundred sixty-nine.
There was another hurricane that occurred in 1893 at Cheniere Caminada. One source recorded 800 lives lost, another recorded 1,650 lost, and a third recorded 2,000 lives lost. The area around Cheniere Caminada was not that heavily populated at the time of this hurricane so even if the number of lives lost was 800 that was still a tremendous amount. That same area was hit by another hurricane on September 21, 1909, at which time 350 lives were lost. This hurricane was recorded as being a Category 4 hurricane. Again, on September 29, 1915, this same area was hit by another Category 4 hurricane which did $3 million in damages and killed almost three hundred people this time.
During the days of June 4-21, 1934, there was a Category 3 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico that was referred to as the "Loop Hurricane". This hurricane was heading toward Louisiana when its direction changed so much that the hurricane made a complete loop. It did this two times before it hit the coast of Louisiana.
On September 19, 1947, there was a Category 3 hurricane that entered the state through Lake Borgne. The eye passed directly over New Orleans and Baton Rouge. There was $24 million in damages and twelve dead.
Many residents still remember Hurricane Audrey which occurred on June 28, 1957. ''Audrey" crossed the coastline in Cameron Parish as a Category 4 hurricane with 110 mph winds. It had a massive storm surge over ten feet in depth which penetrated twenty miles or more inland. "Audrey'' left $150 million in damages and over five hundred dead.
On October 3, 1964, Hurricane Hilda crossed the Louisiana coast at St. Mary Parish as a Category 3 hurricane. There was $100 million in damages and thirty-seven lives lost including twenty-two who died in a tornado in LaRose.
Many residents also remember Hurricane Betsy which took place on September 9, 1965. ''Betsy" came ashore at Grand Isle and traveled parallel with the Mississippi River. "It was the most devastating storm ever to strike the American mainland up to that point in time." There was $1.2 million in damages and fifty-eight lives lost. There were hundreds of people hospitalized and thousands more that were less seriously injured or became ill from exposure and shock. During that hurricane there was a freighter that sank in the Mississippi River near Baton Rouge. The freighter was loaded with six hundred tons of deadly chlorine. It was dangerous because if any of those barrels had ruptured there would have been a deadly blanket of chlorine covering the entire area.
On August 17, 1969, Hurricane Camille did most of its damage in Mississippi but still left its mark on Louisiana. ''Camille" crossed the coast at the nearly uninhabited tip of Louisiana in Plaquemines Parish. The winds were 190-200 mph. It was classified a Category 5 hurricane. It was the most powerful storm ever recorded to that point. A levee along the Mississippi River disintegrated causing a town in Plaquemines Parish to be covered with fourteen feet of water. In Louisiana the damages totaled $322 million and there were nine lives lost.
There are four recorded hurricanes that hit Louisiana during the 1970's. Two of those crossed the coast south of Morgan City. There was Carmen on September 8, 1974, which was a Category 3 hurricane that caused extensive damage to sugarcane and left one dead. There was also Babe on September 5, 1977, which left $5 million in damages. The other two recorded in the 1970's was Edith on September 16, 1971, which came ashore thirty miles east of Cameron and Bob on July 10, 1979, which came ashore east of Cocodrie. Each of these storms left one dead.
Louisiana had a very active hurricane season in 1985. There were three hurricanes that year. First, there was Danny on August 15, 1985, which came ashore near Pecan Island with 90 mph winds. It did $20 million in damages and eroded 10-15% of Louisiana's barrier islands. Then, on September 2, 1985, Elena came through the state of Mississippi before coming into Louisiana through Washington Parish. By the time it crossed into Louisiana the winds had diminished to 90 mph. It still caused $17 million in damages and one death in Louisiana. Finally, on October 27-31, 1985, Juan hit the coast of Louisiana. Juan lingered over the coast and coastal plain for five days causing a five to eight foot storm surge in southeast coastal parishes. Juan had winds of 85 mph, dropped eight to thirteen inches of rain, caused twelve deaths and caused $250 million damages to crops and $304 million damages to property.
Hurricane Andrew made landfall on August 26, 1992, which was a Category 4 hurricane. Andrew had caused so much damage in Florida before coming to Louisiana that the majority of the citizens along the coast chose to move out of it's path. This resulted in only two deaths in Louisiana. In Louisiana, Andrew did about $1 billion in property damage and about $100 million damage to the fishing industry. The storm had churned up the bottom of the water which caused the oxygen supply to be cut off and the fish died.
Hurricane Isidore makes landfall September 26, 2002, just west of Grand Isle as a Tropical Storm with winds of 65 mph, having significantly weakened after stalling over the Yucatán Peninsula. Rainfall was widespread across the state, peaking at 15.97 inches in Metairie. In Terrebonne Parish, 200–300 homes were flooded.
Hurricane Lili made landfall on the morning of October 3,2002 near Intracoastal City, as a weakening category 1 hurricane. Wind gusts reaching 120 mph and a storm surge of 12 feet caused over $790 million in damage to Louisiana. A total of 237,000 people lost power, and oil rigs offshore were shut down for up to a week. Crops were badly affected, particularly the sugar cane, damage totaled nearly $175 million. No direct deaths were reported as early warnings and the compact nature of the storm circumvented major loss of life.
Hurricane Cindy brought wind gusts of 70 mph to New Orleans on July 5, 2005. Rainfall also left scattered street flooding. With thousands losing electrical power, the city experienced its worst blackout since Hurricane Betsy in 1965, only to be trumped by Hurricane Katrina less than eight weeks later.
Hurricane Dennis produced light precipitation and a wind gust of 47 mph at Lakefront Airport in New Orleans on July 10, 2005.
August 29, 2005 is a day many won't forget. Storm surge from Hurricane Katrina resulted in multiple levee failures in the New Orleans area, flooding approximately 80% of the city, with some places being inundated by more than 15 ft. of water. Thousands of people were stranded inside their homes or on rooftops and required rescue from boats and helicopters. Many buildings and homes were damaged, with 134,000 housing units – approximately 70% of residences in New Orleans – were impacted to some degree. The Superdome, which was sheltering many people who had not evacuated, sustained significant damage. A total of 573 deaths occurred in New Orleans alone. Many areas outside of New Orleans also suffered wind damage, especially St. Tammany and Washington parishes. According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, in St. Bernard Parish, 81% of the housing units were damaged. In St. Tammany Parish, 70% were damaged, and in Placquemines Parish 80% were damaged. Throughout the state, 1,577 fatalities were reported. Hurricane Katrina caused $108 billion in damage.
Hurricane Rita makes Landfall as a Category 3 Hurricane at the Texas-Louisiana border on September 24, 2005. Winds were 120mph. Storm surge destroyed coastal communities in Cameron Parish such as Holly Beach. Rita was an intense, destructive, and deadly hurricane that devastated extreme southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Maximum sustained winds increased to 175 mph on the 22nd while moving through the central Gulf of Mexico, and its pressure fell to 897 hPa, the 3rd lowest on record for the Atlantic Basin and the lowest reported from the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. 55 Easterly gales into Lake Ponchartrain led to renewed flooding in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Damages from the cyclone totaled $10 billion.
Hurricane Gustav reached the Louisiana coast on the morning of September 1, 2008, making landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana. The center of the storm continued northwest across the state, so damage and deaths were widespread in many areas; 34 parishes were declared as disaster areas.
Hurricane Isaac, August 29, 2012. Isaac comes ashore the state twice as a large Category 1 hurricane, producing an eleven-foot storm surge in Shell Beach. The storm produces sustained tropical storm-force winds and hurricane-force wind gusts in Grand Isle, leaving over 600,000 customers without power across the state. The most severe effects of the hurricane are reported in Metropolitan New Orleans, where the majority of residents are left without power. In addition, many pumping stations in Slidell were unable to keep up with rainfall rates and the city suffered flood damage as a result.
Hurricane Barry made landfall at Marsh Island on July 13, 2019. Hurricane Barry only produced hurricane-force winds in a small area of Louisiana. Its large circulation produced heavy rainfall over a large area, reaching 23.43 inches near Ragley, Louisiana.
Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana on August 27, 2020. More information coming soon.
Anyone who has gone through a hurricane can probably tell of something amazing that had happened. Here are a few we gathered:
Hurricane Audrey of 1957
"I was in Cameron during the rescue efforts. There was a doctor who had his family in the car getting ready to evacuate. The doctor went back into his house to get his doctor's bag. When he came out of his house, he found that his car and his family had been washed away by the storm surge never to be seen again."
- Andrew Terrebonne
Every year there are hurricanes someplace in the world. Some are worse than others. Some people may lose their homes and others may lose their lives. Those who listen for warnings and follow directions are safe. If you live along the coast, the most important thing that you can do if a dangerous storm is heading your way is to go inland before the storm hits. Move away from shore, where most of the damage occurs. We cannot stop a hurricane but we can get out of it's way. We can move to a safe place, and stay there until the storm is over.
NOTE: This list is suggestions. We suggest listening to your local authorities.
When your area receives a Hurricane Warning there are steps that you can take:
1. Plan your time before the storm arrives and avoid the last minute hurry that might leave you unprepared.
2. Leave low-lying areas. Know your evacuation route.
3. Leave mobile homes.
4. Moor boats securely with extra strong ropes before the wind and waves pick up.
5. Board up windows or at least try to strengthen them with tape. Danger to small windows is mainly from wind-driven debris. Larger windows may be broken by wind pressure.
6. Secure outdoor objects that might be blown away. Garbage cans, garden tools, toys, signs, porch furniture, and a number of other harmless items become missiles of destruction in hurricane winds.
7. Store drinking water in clean tubs, jugs, bottles, cooking utensils. Your town's water supply may be contaminated by flooding or damaged by the hurricane.
8. Stock emergency foods. You will need food that does not require refrigeration and that can be eaten with little or no cooking. If cooking is required, you will need some way to cook the food that does not require your normal methods of cooking. The food that you stock should not be food that makes you very thirsty just in case you run short of water.
9. Have on hand a supply of paper plates and cups, and plastic knives, forks, and spoons so that you won't waste water washing dishes.
10. Check your battery-powered equipment such as radio, lights, and flashlights.
11. Fill your car with fuel. Service stations may not be able to operate after the storm.
12. Get some sort of sanitary facilities. Some kind of covered pail and plastic bags or liners for it, in which to deposit human wastes. If the water supply fails, you won't be able to flush the toilet and this will spare
the family at least an uncomfortable and embarrassing nuisance, and perhaps the risk of spreading disease.
13. Turn the controls of your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting.
14. If you are unable to evacuate and your home is not sturdy or on high ground, go to a designated shelter and stay there till the storm is over.
17. Remain indoors throughout the hurricane. Outside you have to dodge flying debris, falling trees, showers of broken glass, and lashing power lines.
18. Listen to the radio for updates on the storm.
19. Stay away from all windows.
After the hurricane has passed you should keep these things in mind:
1. Avoid loose or dangling wires and report them to the power company or police.
2. Seek any necessary medical care from the Red Cross.
3. Stay out of disaster areas. You may get in the way of any first-aid or rescue efforts.
4. Drive carefully along debris-filled streets.
5. Report broken sewer or water mains to the water department.
6. Take extra care to prevent fires. Water pressure may be low.
7. Check refrigerated food for spoilage.
National Hurricane Center - Hurricane Checklist
Water: One gallon, per person, per day, for three days
Non perishable food: enough for three days
Battery powered radio
A first aid kit
A multipurpose tool (like a Swiss Army Knife)
Sanitary or personal hygiene products
Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
Cell phone and chargers
Family and emergency contact information
Map of the area
Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers, etc…)
Pet supplies (leashes, collar with ID, food carrier, bowl, food)
Tools and supplies for securing the home
Extra set of car keys and house keys
Extra clothing, hat, and sturdy shoes
Insect repellant and sun screen
Camera for taking pictures of hurricane damage
Hurricanes are powerful and dangerous storms that cannot be avoided. The damage that the winds cause can range from broken trees to iron twisted out of shape so bad that it can't be repaired. The damage caused by the water in the hurricane, either from the heavy rains or the storm surge, can also be severe . When a hurricane strikes an area, the people there have no way of knowing exactly what will be damaged and what will be left unharmed by the storm. What may seem to be a strong house may be one that could end up being totally destroyed.
Today is not like it was many years ago. Hurricanes do not catch us by surprise. We have plenty of early warnings so that we can move out of the hurricane's path in order to see to it that our lives are safe. Louisiana has become more populated over the years. The dollar damage has increased over the years because of the increasing number of homes and businesses. On the other hand, the number of deaths have decreased even with the increase in people. This decrease in deaths is due to the early warnings that we have today compared to what there was years ago. The people of today can also learn from the mistakes made in the past when people did not get out of a
hurricane's path, such as in 1957 with Hurricane Audrey. There were so many deaths during that storm because the people didn't listen to the evacuation orders. That area had gone so long without a major hurricane that the people there did not evacuate as they should have.
Residents of Louisiana should take the advice of the weather watchers. If an evacuation is ordered, the people should take it seriously and evacuate. Protect property the best that you can and then leave it for safer ground. Homes and businesses can be replaced.
We have proven that because Louisiana rebuilds after each storm. But a life can never be replaced. A person staying home in a major hurricane may find that he has to fight to save his life or, it may be worse, he may not have the chance to fight to save his life because he may lose his life very suddenly.
Hurricane Katrina Photos ©2005 CLP
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Morgan City Archives
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