Hurricane Ike devastated Hollywood Cemetery in Orange when it blew into town Sept. 13. Strewn caskets lay everywhere after the quickly raising Sabine River uprooted them from their resting place.

Hollywood Cemetery is the oldest known African American cemetery in the area. The land was already in use as a burial site when transferred in 1875. The 2.5 acres was entrusted to William King, trustee of Mount Zion Baptist Church by Mary E. (Merriman) Bonneville.

Thought to be the resting place of area slaves, the oldest marked grave is Trusser T. Thomas (1866-1886).

 Famous Blues singer, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, was buried there in 2005. After escaping Hurricane Katrina, evacuating to his brother’s house in Orange, he succumbed to Lung Cancer on Sept. 8. Brown missed Rita, only to have his place of rest disturbed by Ike.

The sight of disruption to the cemetery was disturbing to relatives of those buried there. Waters have not brought caskets to the surface in this area since Hurricane Carla in 1961.

In comes DMORT (Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team).

Everyone knows about FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), but few have heard of DMORT, which is a federal response team designed to provide mortuary assistance in the case of a mass fatality or cemetery related incident. Team members, along with staff members of Sparrow’s Mortuary collected the caskets that had floated out of their graves, placing them in two refrigerated trucks.

Their official comment was, “No comment.”

“They are taking them to Sulphur to be identified,” said Orange County Judge Carl Thibodeaux. Afterwards, they will be reburied in their proper spot.

Exposed caskets, still in their gravesites, are being left in place to be dealt with by the vault company. Their identity is not in question.

Orange Financier, Joe Burke donated money for the upkeep of the cemetery before his death, but only the interest can be used. This damage was unforeseen and beyond the capabilities of the trust to cover.

Bookmark THERECORDLIVE.COM for updates.

See Ike Photos of storm and aftermath here.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.