Michael Claudel, bar hero

We were looking for Reggie Barrios on Hwy 90 west of Bay St. Louis when we pulled into the parking lot of the Log Cabin, a barebones Mississippi roadhouse. Instead, we found another tale of uncommon heroism in the heat of the moment, as related by Michael Claudel. At the Log Cabin, a combination bar/liquor store/ and laundry on the south side of US Highway 90 at the corner of Little Bay Road in Waveland, just east of Lake Shore, seven men and two women loiter on the elevated front porch of roadhouse with the rustic log exterior. Inside, there’s what remains of a short, four stool bar, a mud-encrusted pool table and a video dart game flat on the floor next to a wire cage containing six yapping Chihuahua pups. Around the side are what remains of a laundrymat and a liquor store. There’s a half empty quart of tequila under one bench and beer bottles scattered around the porch and in the muddy lot in front. Some of the blue-collar crowd lingering on the porch appear to have been drinking in the early afternoon, regardless, or perhaps because of the ruin surrounding them.

“That’s my Lincoln right there,” says Micheal Claudel, standing in the lot in front of the porch pointing to the west boundary of the lot. “It was parked over here,” he says, pointing fifty feet to the east. Claudel, is none too pleased that his 1992 model Continental was flooded out and no longer runs. He’s not real happy he has no home either. “My house is totally underwater, it’s sideways in the weeds,” he says matter-of-factly.

Claudel, a boyish looking blonde haired man who is 40, who speaks with a thick Yat [ie. New Orleanian] accent, knows he should have known better. A native of Terrytown on the West Bank of the Mississippi River across from New Orleans, he’s been through a few hurricanes. He moved to Shoreline Park near Bay St. Louis six years ago when he gained custody of his son. He tried to ride out the storm with friends including Micheal Cuevas, the owner of the Log Cabin.

“A friend of mine, Micheal Cuevas, owns a bunch of property on this corner,” Claudell explained. “We stayed next door in his laundrymat. He stayed in the liquor store with 11 people. Three of us stayed in the laundrymat. I had a place to go but something told me just to stay here. I had a place to go on the other side of I-10, my sister’s house in Pass Christian about 20 minutes from here. I wouldn’t have lost that [his car]. But these are my friends and when I seen them….and it got kinda late, about 9 or 10 [Sunday night] and the storm started up so I stayed here.”

That decision cost him his car, but saved a few lives in the process including that of a legally blind man and a pregnant woman past her due date.

“About 7:30 Monday morning, we got two inches of water. Half hour later, we’re standing in three foot of water. It’s coming up pretty damn fast. Real fast. We’re looking at each other, wondering what in the world we’re gonna do? We got on top of the dryers. We saw everybody going out of the liquor store. They had a convoy going out of the liquor store because the water was so high, they couldn’t stay in there no more. So we followed right behind them. When we got right here [at the corner of the elevated porch of the Log Cabin], Gail reached over to the handrail and missed it, and her husband, D.H. grabbed her. It [the water] was rushing like the Colorado raids. The current was unbelievable. I stood right here [on the steps] and swung these boots that were tied around my neck and Gail and D.H. grabbed my boots, friend of mine grabbed my leg, water was all around us, and pulled us all up there. She couldn’t even stand up. He [D.H.] was holding her from there to here, she’s a little short girl, five foot or something, four foot, whatever.

“We all get into the Log Cabin. Water’s still comin’ up. Hour later, it’s higher, so we get on the pool table.” Claudell and his friend Bobby McAlister pushed the pool table beneath the attic entryway. “We open up the attic, start putting everybody in the attic [the entrance is directly above the pool table]. We get up in the attic. It’s coming up, coming up, coming up. It took an hour before it rose into the attic. There’s about an inch in the attic. So we didn’t waste no time.

Together with Bobby McAlister, 44, and his brother David Smith, 38, Claudel broke a hole in the attic ceiling. “We said, ‘Now, we gotta break loose,’ Claudel says. “So we busted it loose. I took this right here,” he says, holding a table leg, “I took it up in the attic with me. And after we got the vent off we started beating and prying, we got enough room so I could squeeze myself out, then we broke it loose and started transporting the people. Me and Bobby McAlister made a bridge. There was a hole in the roof so we took some boards, one by eight and one by six planks, put two of them together, crossed over the gable of the roof, walked a good 40 feet along the back of the roof [which had blown apart]. We saw the trailer [Michael Cuevas camper adjacent to the Log Cabin] was just getting water on it, so we grabbed two 6x12s and laid them across. The last bridge we made went into the bathroom window on the second floor of another building behind the cabin] Bobby McAlister would take them over the peak and bring them to me. I’d meet them at the bridge and we walked across the bridge, across his camper and across the other bridge and put them in a little bathroom window [on the second floor] the smallest window in that building. [about 24 inches wide]. We got about a foot of water, but we were safe.”

Or maybe not so safe. “That was our safety zone, but the building over there was shaking so bad,” Bobby McAlister says. “We were just all standing there, waiting for whatever was gonna happen.”

“We just tried to stay calm because I knew a bunch of us couldn’t swim,” McAlister recalls. “There were dogs. Her dad is blind. She was pregnant full-term. Only thing I can do is try to keep a level head, try to get everybody to safe harbor. It was definitely an experience. That wind sound it was making. Somewhere between supersonic and an almost scary sound, it was constant.”

“Now Micheal Cuevas, the owner, is legally blind,” Claudel explains. “I’m going over the roof with him” holding and guiding him on the boards. “The wind’s blowin’ a hundred, a hundred twenty five miles an hour, easy.”

.”We stuck together, me and him,” Claudel says of the elderly Cuevas, a short, white haired gentleman. “He listened to every word I said. Got him in the window and everybody was safe.”

“We got everybody over there”, across the mobile home to the second floor of a back building, “all the pets, how many pets ya’ll got? Six? Six dogs. Two or three birds.”

Cuevas, 66, who was raised “in the Kiln” as he calls it, six miles to the north and has lived at the Log Cabin for six years, joins the retelling. Cuevas was in the back room laying down, when his daughter came in and said, ‘Daddy, you got to get up. There’s six inches in here. We got up and come in the liquor store. We stayed a little bit and the water got that deep [belly high]. We all got out of there, got our six Chihuahuas and two birds. We put them in an ice chest and drug them with us to the porch. We stepped into the Log Cabin. When it [the water] come up to the bar, well, then we said we had to get in the attic. Then we put the birds and dogs in the attic and this man Mike and Bobby McAlister and Bobby McAlister’s brothers, knocked that hole in the roof, put these two boards from this building to the trailer, and put two other boards from the house trailer to the two story building and took us one at a time. That man there [Claudel] took me across the bridge that’s about eight inches wide.

“The wind was goin’ 125, 150 miles an hour,” says Cuevas. “When you’re going across the roof, you’re like this [Cuevas wobbles like a drunk trying to walk the line.] You slide. It’s a miracle that everybody’s alive. It’s a miracle. We saved six puppies and three birds, and one of the birds got out. We lost one bird. It’s unbelieveable. See all these cars here? There was about six foot of water over these cars. See that two story house over there?” he says, pointing to the group’s final stopping place. ”Water got two feet deep up there. Yes, sir, we was gittin’ scared. Lemme tell you another thing, we had a lady who was in a travel trailer over there [in a mobile park behind the Log Cabin] and she tried to climb out of a hole. She couldn’t go. And that woman’s dead. We told the law about it that same day. They waited two days before they went over there.” Her head stuck out of the trailer for two days.

“We could see her out this window,” Michael Claudel says. “She had a one by one vent at the top of the trailer that she broke out. She stuck her head through it but couldn’t get the rest of her body [out]. So when the water come up, it must have come up over her head. What a horrible death.”

“That man [Claudel] and Bobby McAlister saved my life,” Cuevas says.

Another man out in front of the Log Cabin calmly mentions he still couldn’t find his 20 year old daughter. He hadn’t lost hope. He was still looking. But he knew the prognosis wasn’t good.

As for Claudel, he’s staying in the room where he and Bobby McAlister led the others to safety during the flood. “I lost my car, my home is totaled, it’s just a big mess. But we’re alive, thank God, thank God.”

To make a comment, please contact Joe Nick


Home - Contact - News/Appearances - Notes & Musings - Bio - Bibliography
Books - Music - Texas - Travel - Water - Misc - Photos - Links

Copyright 2006 © Joe Nick Patoski, All Rights Reserved. - Website design: Jodi Jenkins