Triumph and tragedy lie intertwined within each
community. Evident in
a small rural town in southwest Louisiana is the
truth of that statement. In the midst of its
life, obviously, memorable moments have formed
the face of this community. In its history,
triumph has emerged in many situations, while
its counterpart, tragedy; has also played a
vital role. Although the town has experienced
tragic events through the decades, one
horrendous tragedy in the fall of 1964
mesmerized the entire area.
During the first of week October in 1964,
Hurricane Hilda made landfall along the
Louisiana coast near Marsh Island, leaving
behind death, devastation, and destruction.
Along her path, she took with her, the lives of
several local men, as well as thirty one other
Louisiana citizens. The aftermath of this
disastrous storm left a number of grieving
parents, wives, family members, friends, and
children. In the wake of this horrible tragedy,
eight Erath men were laid to rest, while the
rest of the community was left paralyzed with
grief. The ordeal began on the afternoon of
October 3, 1964, when some Erath citizens
gathered in town to assist the Civil Defense
The small Police Station/Fire Station/City Hall
Building was located in the center of town on
Broadway Street, with the water tower standing
tall and erect above it. With Hurricane Hilda
anxiously waiting to make landfall, Erath
citizens, who lived only six miles from the
coast, knew the full effects of a hurricane. So
town officials, working in conjunction with the
Civil Defense crew, were ready to weather the
effects of this storm, or so they thought. While
Hurricane Hilda was approaching the Louisiana
coast, tornadoes were spawning in the midst of
the storm system, which began causing damage in
local areas. Many offered their services at the
Civil Defense Headquarters. One helper on that
bleak afternoon was David Broussard, the local
funeral home director and owner of the ambulance
service in Erath. He had been working. the desk
earlier that day, when Scotty Bernard, a
nineteen year old U.S.L. student had replaced
him as the ham operator. Upon being relieved,
Broussard then returned home to rest.
At 1:30 P. M., David Broussard's teenage son,
Martial, left his home and went to the Civil
Defense Headquarters at the City Hall to assist
with the radio. Though only seventeen at the
time, he had experience with CB Radios, because
his father owned the local ambulance service.
So, the young Broussard had volunteered to help
operate the radio during the storm. The CB radio
was located in the back of City Hall, where many
of the volunteers were sitting along the walls,
waiting out the storm. When Broussard arrived,
he stopped to check the plotting chart on his
way to relieve Bernard at the radio. At 5:15
P.M., he walked in and said hello to Bernard and
proceeded to hang up his rain coat. Within
minutes, Broussard heard a deafening noise,
which was followed by an unending amount of
water that engulfed the group. Broussard was
thrown by the blow, but then pinned by some
metal beams and building debris. Trapped and
unable to break free, water kept rapidly and
steadily raging toward him. At the time,
Broussard thought a tidal wave had hit.
Cleve Thibodeaux, a city councilman at that
time, had been at the police station, but left
to check on his family. Upon returning to the
police station, he saw an image that is forever
branded in his mind and in his heart. He
literally saw the 125 foot water tower and giant
cylinder case holding 10,000 gallons of water,
"twist and fall" upon the City Hall Building. At
that time, Thibodeaux." called for help on the
radio and announced that some heavy equipment
would be needed because the water tower had
collapsed on the small structure.
Upon his arrival at the scene, Thibodeaux could
hear cries of help. He found the young Erath
High School student trapped under the rubble of
the building. David Broussard, father of the
teenager, and the original ham operator that
afternoon, lived about two blocks from City Hall
when he heard the horrible crashing sound. He
returned to the building to find the area
flooded among the remnants of the brick
building. The older Broussard then realized that
his son was trapped under building debris and he
was surrounded by water.
Through the help of Cleve Thibodeaux and
Vermilion Parish Deputy Sheriff Harold Dyson,
the two managed to lift the metal beam that
trapped him. It took forty five minutes with the
use of jacks to lift the weight of the steel
beam, for the young man to break free. Broussard
later learned, that the legs of the water tower
standing high above the City Hall, had collapsed
and literally crushed the one story red brick
building under it's impact. With 10,000 gallons
of water in the tower rushing out of the
cylinder case, the men standing at the door were
literally shoved out by the tremendous force of
water, but not all were as lucky. Death had
called for some of the volunteers, although
nothing more could be done about those who were
lying beneath the fragments of the structure
until the equipment arrived.
During this time, heavy equipment, including
drag lines and two massive cranes were
struggling in the midst of the storm, in an
attempt to reach the City Hall. But the strong
winds prevailed and they were hampered by the
storm. The search finally began on Sunday
morning. Rescue workers labored through the
early morning hours to locate and remove the
dead bodies, with the search concluding at 10:00
A.M. The final count of fatalities totaled eight
on the morning of October 3, 1964. As the bodies
on that solemn morning were located, they were
wrapped in canvas Tarpaulins, with their names
written on the side. They were taken to a shed
about four blocks away from the scene. Numb and
grief stricken family members and friends sat
silently outside until a truck arrived loaded
with caskets. Relatives of the dead men shake
beyond belief. Stood as the caskets were
unpacked from the pine crates. As the coffins
were ready, each man was transferred into the
Hilda's deadly storm led this community toward
an immense disaster, the worst seen in the
history of the town. With the spin of her deadly
winds, the legs of the water tower had buckled
and collapsed leaving a trail of death and
destruction that would haunt area residents for
a life time.
Dr. Leroy Suire, Erath Mayor at the time, said
most of the survivors of the crash had been
standing in the doorway of the building when the
structure gave way to winds. Suire also told
reporters that one man had his hand. on the guy
wire to the tower when he felt it suddenly go
slack. In the realization of what was about to
take place, he fled as the building was crushed
to it's foundation. The six survivors of this
tragic event were Martial Broussard, Joseph
Schexnaider, Willie Bodin, Clemile Dubois, Nuda
Trahan and Obrey Choates. The cause of the
collapse remains a mystery. Many speculate the
high winds caused by the hurricane caused the
collapse, while others blamed a twister.
Eight men died horribly tragic deaths due to the
repercussions of Hurricane Hilda's wrath. Those
who lost their lives in this horrendous tragedy
were: Joseph Camile Brown, 50, was a former
sheriff’s deputy, city councilman, and mayor pro
tempore. Surviving family members at that time
included his wife, the former Sadie Broussard
and his two daughters. Josie Brown (Arceneaux),
and Mrs. Wilmer (Barbara) Dugas. He had
one brother L. J. Brown and four sisters, Mrs.
(Beatrice) Wiltz Leblanc, Mrs. (Regina)
Simon Dubois, Mrs. (Rosie) C. L. Quoyser,
and Mrs. (Euphemie "Mimi") Lloyd Guillot.
He was preceded in death by his sister, Mrs.
Priscilla Harrington. He was the son of Camile
and Aelmire Brown. He was a veteran of World War
II. Brown's nephew Richard Dubois followed in
his uncle's political footsteps, when he served
as Erath Mayor. Joe Brown's great nephew Jimmy
Domingue served as the Vermilion Parish
Registrar of Voters and his brother Bob
('T-Bob") Domingue is presently an Erath
Brothers Vernice and Duffy Broussard were two
other victims in the water tower tragedy.
Vernice Broussard, (a 1963 graduate of Erath
High School) was a twenty year old hardware
store employee. His brother Duffy, 28, was a
1954 Erath High School graduate. who worked as
an appliance store employee. Their parents were
Mr. and Mrs. Jules Broussard. The brothers left
behind a sister. Vivian Broussard (Gilbert).
Maternal grandparents were Mr. and Mrs. Nollie
Menard and their maternal grandparents were Mr.
and Mrs. Edias Bouillion.
The fourth victim was Eutis "Noo Noo" Menard who
was 53. Mr. Menard was the Erath High school
janitor. Surviving him was his wife. Noelia Dore
Menard, a daughter Nora. his mother Mrs. Ubal
Menard and his sister Mrs. C. D. (Eola)
Goutierrez. He was preceded in death by his
brother Murphy Menard and his father Ubal
The fifth of the eight victims was Otto "Cowboy"
Bourque who was also 53. He was the patrolman at
Erath High School. He was survived by his foster
mother. Mrs. Amedia LaSalle. He was the son of
the late Mr. and Mrs. Ovey Bourque of Erath.
"Cowboy" had four brothers. Paul. Otto. Larsay
and Durphy Bourque.
Clifton J. Dugas was the sixth. He was a 33 year
old construction worker. Survivors at the time
of his death included his wife. the former Anna
Mae Morvant: a son Clifford Lee, two daughters.
Ledia Mae and Wanda Marie. Dugas had two
brothers. Stafford Dugas and Jimmie Lee Romero
and five sisters; Mrs. Eluse Choate. Mrs.
Isidore Broussard. Mrs. Mary Spandoni. Mrs.
Glaqu Badeaux and Theresa Ann Dugas.
The seventh life lost was Felix Dubois. who was
a 53 year old farmer. Survivors at the time of
his death included his wife. the former Mabel
Boudreaux and four daughters. Alice Dubois
LeBlanc, Gladys Dubois Romero. Verline Dubois
Bernard. and Helen June Dubois. His parents were
Mr. and Mrs. Theophile Dubois and his sister was
Mrs. Gladue Perrin.
The final and youngest victim found was that of
the young nineteen year old college student who
was working as the ham operator at the time of
the crash. Rane Scott Joseph "Scotty" Bernard
was a student at the University of Southwestern
Louisiana. The 1963 Erath High School Graduate
was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Voorhies
Bernard. His maternal grandparents were Otis and
Elias Landry and his paternal grandparents were
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bernard Sr. Scotty was a
member of the "Five Watts" Club. who trained him
as a ham operator. He was also a U. S. Civil
Defense Member. In 1982. Bernard's goddaughter
Telisa Bernard Lege'. gave birth to a son and he
was given the name Scott. in memory of her late
godfather. Rane Scott Joseph Bernard.
Upon locating and identifying all eight bodies,
a multiple Catholic service was held. The
Services were held at 10:00 A. M. on Monday,
October 5, 1964, at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic
Church, only blocks away from the scene of the
tragic event that would leave so many hearts
scarred. All eight men were exposed in the
Catholic Church in Erath. With photographs
surrounding the eight caskets lined up in the
front of church, family members and friends
gathered to bid these brave men good bye.
Governor John J. McKeithen, on an aerial
inspection of the Louisiana southern coast,
stopped by briefly to attend part of the service
held for the town's eight victims. The governor
extended his sympathy to Mayor Leroy Suire.
Monsignor Gustave Berube, pastor, was celebrant
of the solemn requiem mass. Father
Charles Dubois, (Joe Brown's nephew, who was a
Transitional Deacon at the 'time) and
Reverend Carroll Lee Dupuis, the associate
pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church
preached the funeral eulogies. Monsignor
Reverend Emery Labbe, a former priest from Our
Lady of Lourdes Parish, returned to Erath for
the Funeral Mass. During the service, Reverend
Labbe was quoted as saying, "that these men had
died a hero's death. They were brave men 8 who
stayed to protect what belonged to others."
Assisting in the services were Reverend Charles
Soileau, associate pastor at the Erath Catholic
Church and Reverend Kenneth Morvant, of St.
John's Cathedral in Lafayette.
Present in the sanctuary also was Father Raphael
Gauthier, Pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in
Delcambre. Eutis Menard's body was taken to the
Delcambre Catholic Cemetery, while the other
seven were buried in the Erath Cemetery.
Almost the entire town gathered to offer it's
prayers for their neighbors taken from them in
this tragedy. At the time of the service,
mourners filled the church yard, as well as the
school yard located across the street.
Martial Broussard, the young survivor of this
tragic event is now married to the former Jeneal
Waggoner from Shreveport. They have three
children, Katherine Marie, David Martial Jr.,
and Teilla Danielle. The Broussard's have one
grandson, Scott Kelly Backstrom II. The
Broussard's reside in Erath.
October 3, 1999 marked the thirty fifth
anniversary of Hurricane Hilda's destructive
visit to the small town of Erath. This
horrendous and dreadful event is one of, if not,
"the most memorable" in the town's one hundred
year history. In the wake of this tragedy, time
healed some scars that accompanied this hideous
accident, but the legacy of death and
destruction will be forever etched in their
hearts of those who survived it.
On October 5,
1964, a mesmerized town watched parents bury
children, wives bury husbands, and young ones
bury fathers. A tragic turn of events, eight
deaths and a multiple funeral service, which
forever changed lives in a small town. A mark in
Erath's history labeled “The Tragedy of the
As with the rising of the sun, darkness is a
reality, yet light and hope of a new day are
also evident. On the morning of, October 3,
1999, a new day dawned at Our Lady of Lourdes
Catholic Church, as one hundred sixty relatives
and community members gathered to remember the
lives of the eight men who died during Erath's
Water Tower Collapse in the mid sixties. The
memorial mass and reception paid tribute to Joe
Camile Brown, Eutis 'Noo Noo" Menard, Clifton
Dugas, Felix DuBois, Otto "Cowboy" Bourque, Rane
Scott Joseph "Scotty" Bernard, Vernice Broussard
and Duffy Broussard.
Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic
Community, the Erath Mayor, Town Councilmen and
Centennial Committee, hosted a memorial ceremony
and reception this past Sunday. Celebrant
Reverend Wayne Duet presided over. the 35th
Anniversary Mass, which reunited families of the
eight victims. The 11:00 a.m. Memorial Mass
which was held on the actual anniversary date of
the accident. Family members and friends
gathered from Houston, Sulphur and connecting
Acadiana areas, to remember their loved ones.
Though not a celebrated moment in time, this
historical date was part of Erath's Centennial
During the unique liturgy, Centennial Chairman
Jackie Vincent served as lector family members
served in other capacities. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph
Voohries Bernard, who lost their only “Scotty,"
brought up the bread and wine. Erath Alderman
Bob Domingues (Great Nephew of Joe Brown),
former Erath Mayor Richard Dubois, (Nephew of
Joe Brown,) Lee Bernard (Uncle of Scotty
Bernard) and Brennan Bernard (cousin of
Scotty Bernard) served as ushers.
Our Lady of Lourdes Choir members under the
direction of Clevie Thibodeaux presented the
liturgical music. Thibodeaux, a college freshman
at the time, one of the choir members sang at
the solemn funeral mass in '64.
Following the mass, family and friends gathered
at Erath City Hall, which was dedicated to these
victims when the New City Hall was built.
in1966. Two murals were presented in a short
ceremony during the anniversary reception. A
mural of the old Catholic Church structure was
painted by Jackie Vincent, the Erath Centennial
Chairman. The second mural, painted by artist
Kitty LeBlanc, was a personalized memorial to
the eight victims of the crash.
An unusual twist of fate brought unexpected
disaster to Erath that unforgettable October
evening in 1964. Walking hand in hand, grief,
and death claimed Erath. The harsh reality of
the multiple deaths numbed the rural community
when Hurricane Hilda hit the Louisiana Coastline
bringing with her, tremendous disaster.
Citizens of Erath will never forget the stories,
multiple funeral or the loss of so many human
lives. Although a vast number changes have
occurred since the collapse of the 125 foot
water tower details are vivid in the minds of
residents, the crash of the giant cylinder case
containing 40,000 gallons of water onto the old
City Hall Building will be remembered as a bleak
time period for this community.
The 1964 funeral service, which captured the
attention of the state, was held at 10:00 a.m.
on Monday, October 5, only blocks from the
tragic scene. With no funeral parlor large
enough to house the eight men, the caskets were
exposed in Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
Photographs surrounded the eight caskets, which
were lined up in the front of church. At the
time of the service, mourners filled the church
yard, as well as the school yard located across
the street. Though categorized as a "group" who
experienced similar deaths, this memorial mass
and reception allowed families to gather and
remember the lives of' each man they loved.
Through this reunion, each man's legacy of
"life" became evident, not only his death.
Without a doubt, this stark tragedy tied these
men in death, however family and friends were
the ties that bound them in life. As
individuals, each man lived in his own right,
just as each possessed an individual spirit,
heart, and family. As with a sunrise, the
horizons brightened as fond memories were
shared. Amazingly though, no longer physically
present, each victim managed to live on through
the love experienced during their lives. In
short, these were men who loved their families
and who were loved in return.
On October 5, 1964, many relatives buried a part
of their family, as well as a part of their
heart. On that tragic autumn day, family
pyramids changed...work places changed...Erath
changed.Yet, among the changes, intense sadness,
and tears which accompanied this accident,
family legacies were born. In fact, never to be
forgotten legacies, which have been passed on to
younger generations within each family
structure. Stories of grandfathers, fathers,
relatives, and friends surfaced within each
family unit. Just as the first ray of sunlight
peers through the darkest of nights at the break
of dawn, light eventually entered hearts through
the years. While family members gathered to
remember loved ones, the dark atmosphere present
so long ago disappeared into a new day, as the
love of each man managed to transcend time to
touch the next generation.
A different tide turned, as these relatives
gathered in the same Catholic Church thirty five
years later. Through the years, healing has
accompanied time. This momentous anniversary
allowed relatives to experience wonderful
memories of each human soul, which was
tragically taken from their family. The "death"
that bound these men together will always be a
reality in Erath, but hopefully, so will each
individual life that existed. The raging force
of Hurricane Hilda's natural disaster brought a
horrendous moment in time. Disaster spawned
darkness in 1964, but healing brought light to
Erath in 1999.