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WEJ at 21: A Rising Sea, a Vanishing Coast, and a 19th-Century Disaster that Warns of a Warmer World

The track of the 1856 hurricane that destroyed Isle Deniere
Wikimedia Commons
The track of the 1856 hurricane that destroyed Isle Deniere

In the summer of 1853, many of New Orleans’s citizens traveled to Isle Derniere, an emerging island retreat on the Gulf of Mexico, presuming it a safe haven from yellow fever. On August 10, 1856, a hurricane swept across the island, killing most of its 400 inhabitants. What remained of the island was a forest stranded in the sea, a sign of a land that would eventually vanish.

Map of Isle Dernier as it appeared in 1853
Williams et al. under contract of U.S. Geological Survey
Map of Isle Dernier as it appeared in 1853

Dr. Abby Sallenger’s book, Island in a Storm: A Rising Sea, a Vanishing Coast, and a Nineteenth-Century Disaster that Warns of a Warmer World, is the riveting true story of the people who faced this fierce hurricane, their bravery and cowardice, luck and misfortune, life and death. It also chronicles a coast in perpetual motion and a rising sea that made the Isle Derniere particularly vulnerable to a great hurricane.

Sallenger joins Dr. Edgar to tell the story of Isle Derniere and about the need to re-examine our ideas about living on the coast.

Sallenger received his Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of Virginia and is the former Chief Scientist of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Center for Coastal Geology. He presently leads the USGS Extreme Storms research group.

Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar received his B.A. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.