The few, the proud — the Cajun Navy
Just last year, unprecedented storms hit the Baton Rouge area, and neighborhoods that had never been known to flood suddenly began taking on water, leaving many watching in horror as the water rose around them. As official rescue efforts began, an informal group of civilians — fishermen and hunters with their own boats — took to the water to aid in the efforts, rescuing hundreds of their fellow Louisianians stranded in the storm. Social media users began calling these volunteers “the Cajun Navy,” and the name stuck.
Only a year later, flooding hit the Gulf Coast again, this time in Texas, as the slow-moving Hurricane Harvey devastated southeast Texas and the greater Houston area. However, the Cajun Navy was ready yet again. Hundreds of people with boats and trucks drove from Louisiana to neighboring Texas to assist in any way they could. Even though they faced difficulty getting into flooded areas, the Cajun Navy persevered and set to work helping the flood victims.
- Members of the Cajun Navy might have any type of boat, but the flat-bottomed duck hunting boats so common in South Louisiana are particularly helpful in flood zones, making it easier to avoid submerged obstacles, such as cars.
- While the Cajun Navy only recently earned its catchy moniker, the recent floods were by no means the first time volunteers in trucks and boats set out to help flood victims. In 2005, for example, when New Orleans was still in chaos from Katrina, a group of volunteers met at the Acadiana Mall in Lafayette to caravan to New Orleans. Although they expected 30 or so people to show up, organizers were met with over 350 boats. Together they saved over 10,000 people from flooded homes and rooftops.
- The 2016 rainstorm that flooded Baton Rouge wasn’t named like hurricanes and tropical storms typically are. Nevertheless, it was every bit as impactful. The parishes that flooded received up to 2 feet of rain in some parts, causing a natural disaster that required days and weeks of rescue efforts. Almost 60,000 homes were damaged in the floods, mostly in Tangipahoa, East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes, as well as the River Parishes.
- The storm began on Aug. 11, and by the next day, the Amite and Comite rivers began to flood. Altogether 10 rivers flooded over the next three days, and the Amite and Comite reached record-high levels.
- A number of Facebook pages and websites have popped up to help organize Cajun Navy efforts. These include pages like “Louisiana Cajun Navy,” “Cajun Navy 2016,” as well as groups like “Cajun Navy Relief ( Rescue Op. Page )” These groups help organize volunteers and share and document their trials and successes.
- When heading into flooded areas, members try to find out as much information as possible, like addresses and phone numbers of people in need, so they can work efficiently. Members will post on Facebook or Twitter asking for information and form a plan around the information that others post.
- Another way that the Cajun Navy is able to organize is through the app Zello, which is a walkie-talkie app allowing many people to communicate quickly.
The people of New Orleans and South Louisiana are no strangers to inclement weather and natural disaster. In fact, it has become a part of our identity — but so has the inclination to help others in the wake of disaster. In addition to standing as a personification of the blend of self-reliance and selflessness that is such a part of the character of the region, the Cajun Navy is a grassroots effort at its best: boots on the ground and boats in the water, ready and willing to help.