The three women were children when
the big flood of May 1927 washed over their homes, but the images of high water,
narrow escapes and refugee status are burned into their minds.
Irene Mallet Durrio, 80, Olivia King, 88, and Anna Collins Ceasar, 88, recently sat around a table in the dining room of the Tri-Community Nursing Home in Palmetto to share memories of the day the levee broke and the weeks of waiting for high water to drain.
"There was water everywhere," said King, who was 13-years-old in 1927, "not a piece of land anywhere."
"It was a whole week that they come in there and tried to get the people out," said Ceasar. "But my mama was stubborn. She was in the 1912 high water and she wasn't scared of no high water. Two white men came in a boat and she wouldn't get in. But it got real bad and she got us in another boat and we got out."
"The levee broke," said Durrio, "and the water was red and it was coming faster and faster."
Ceasar said that she and her family went to the train depot in Palmetto to catch the train to Alexandria, but the plans did not work out.
"That was the only dry land," Ceasar said, "at the depot. We were in a box car waiting to go to Alexandria, and they came and told us the engine couldn't come down from Alexandria to Palmetto because the water went over the bridge and the tracks. We couldn't get out. Was I scared? I was too scared to spit!"
"We lived in the country near Port Barre," Durrio said, "back in the woods. You couldn't come out there unless you were on a horse or a mule. There was no roads out there. We were playing in the water in the woods behind the house, and we saw that the water was coming faster, and my uncle, he come out and yelled at us to get out of the water because the high water was coming."
"I was working in the field and my daddy came out and said the water broke and we had to get out," said King. "One of my daddy's friends said 'Get in the wagon.' So we all, my mama and daddy and us five kids, we got into the wagon we headed to Washington. We saved our stove too. We just did make across that bridge over the (Bayou) Courtableau. It was shaking when we crossed over it, and just as we got over it, the bridge fell."
"They had to come out and get us in a boat," Durrio said, "and we went to Opelousas to live in a refugee camp. We had to stay there about three weeks. Then, my daddy bought a house from his friend and we lived in it while they cleaned up our house."
Durrio was the only one of the three women who lived in the refugee camp in Opelousas. The other two women stayed with family or friends until their parents could make other arrangements.
"The camps were bad," Durrio said. "We stayed in tents. They had planks on the ground to walk on, but there was mud everywhere. We had to stand in line to get food. The food was bad, so we ended up buying food. I got lost one day, and I was walking around looking for my mama and crying and a lady took me to my mama. We stayed there about three weeks before my daddy bought a house and we lived in that house while they cleaned up our house. We had 80 acres back there. That was my lifetime home, that house."
As the waters receded, the ladies and their families dealt with the mess. Although some people gave up and moved out, the three families moved back into their homes and rebuilt their lives.
"The smell was real bad," King said, "and there was mud and water in all the houses. We had to use that lime to clean up. We spread that lime all over to kill all the germs."
"A hog died on top of our house," Durrio said, "and it smelled real bad. My daddy used a pirogue to pull him off."
There was only one benefit from the flood, according to the ladies.
"After the water went down," Durrio said, "the crawfish were everywhere."
"They were everywhere," Ceasar agreed.
"There were so many in the ditch," said Durrio, "that my daddy used a big shovel and shoveled out pounds of crawfish."
But even this benefit was not without its trouble.
"I was small," King said, "and I ran after the other children crossing a big ditch and I like to got drowned. My sister had to pull me out of the water."