Most people in Breaux Bridge were wary but not overly concerned when the Great Flood of 1927 came pushing down the Mississippi River and then into the Atchafalaya.
They’d seen big floods before and had been protected from them by an old levee left thousands of years ago when the main course of the Mississippi visited what is now the Teche country. That old levee, called the Teche Ridge, had never been overtopped by a flood before – not by the big ones in 1897 and 1912, nor by the one just five years before in 1922.
The complacent residents of Breaux Bridge thought nothing would be different this time.
They were wrong, way wrong.
They began to suspect how wrong they were when the levee broke at Melville on May 17. The water pouring through a gaping hole had no place to go but south, toward St. Martin Parish.
They began to know how wrong they were when that Melville flood was joined at Port Barre by a second torrent pouring through another levee break at Bayou des Glaises in Avoyelles Parish.
The two floods combined to send 1.3 million cubic feet of water per second toward the Teche Ridge, a lot more than it had ever before been called upon to stop.
Forecasters in the Weather Bureau in New Orleans took one look at the onrushing water and urged complete evacuation of an area 15 to 20 miles wide “between the west bank of the Atchafalaya river and higher ground along the western boundary of St. Martin Parish.”
The Associated Press reported “a new river ... tearing its way through the fertile farm lands of the Evangeline country.”
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover traveled to St. Martinville to look things over. He advised the people there “to prepare for inundation” and warned Breaux Bridge “to be in readiness to flee.”
Weather officials, including the respected Isaac Cline (who was one of the few weathermen to correctly forecast the size and impact of the 1900 hurricane at Galveston) said that, this time, the Teche Ridge was not going to hold back the water. Still some people stayed on.
By May 21, the flood had covered all of the lowlands west of Breaux Bridge, and, making matters worse, heavy rains flooded the roads that were the only way to safety.
The Daily Advertiser headline, in its biggest type, screamed “Boats Needed to Reach Families, Lafayette-Breaux Bridge Road Becomes Stream.”
A flotilla of boats headed down what had been the highway bringing back reports of water rising everywhere in St. Martin, of people stranded on roofs, and of “steadfast refusals to leave without their chickens” by some residents.
But, finally, on May 22, they had to go, with or without the chickens.
The last people to leave Breaux Bridge before the torrent swept into the town said they heard trees cracking and breaking as the water and the debris that it carried battered everything in its path.