One Group’s Inspiring Response to the Devastating Floods in Louisiana SEPTEMBER 26, 2016 BY AMELIA HAMILTON

When Baton Rouge, Louisiana flooded last month, neighbors and communities pulled together to help after the disaster.

The floods had caused immense loss. Here is a quick look into the aftermath of the floods.  

  • More than 145,000 homes were damaged 
  • The state opened more than 11,000 shelters 
  • Around 20 schools have been damaged in the surrounding areas resulting in more than 265,000 students to be left out of schools 
  • Prisoners were evacuated 
  • The economy suffered a loss of more than $15 billions, which cannot be met even from the returns from a HB Swiss trade 

Several volunteers came forward to help.Among the leaders who showed up day after day were known collectively as “the Cajun Navy,” a group citizens who organized to reach the people in need with supplies or help to evacuate. What started as a Facebook group to organize the helpers grew into a movement.

When I was invited to join the Facebook group, I asked members to share their stories. As it happened, none of the members of the Cajun Navy thought they were being heroic; none of them thought theirs was a story worth writing. They all wanted to tell me about the work being done by the other people.

That’s what the Cajun Navy is: a group of selfless men and women who are lifting up the community — and each other — not for recognition, but because helping a neighbor is simply what one does.

Rob Gaudet, one of the captains of the Cajun Navy, said that this was a group of strangers who found each other online and through word of mouth and simply got to work.

rob gaudetRob Gaudet
“None of us have ever met,” he said, “and everybody is working like from their kitchen table or their office.”

Requests for help would come in through Facebook, and a mobile CB radio type app was used to communicate with boaters. A GPS app helped direct boaters to those in need. Thousands of people were helped through this process as well as countless pets and livestock.

Gaudet told Fox Business that the culture of community was a large part of the Cajun Navy’s success. “We’re obviously proud of the Cajun culture, it’s a very unique community… it’s a very tight-knit community. And, so, we’re proud of who we are, and I think that’s what gave us the motivation.”

“You don’t think twice,” he added. “If your neighbor needs their life saved or they’re hungry or they need a bowl of rice, you’re going to give it to them and it’s ingrained in our community.”

Ryan Romero, another Cajun Navy volunteer, echoed Gaudet’s remarks. “It’s time to impact lives. Time to test myself and see what I can get accomplished,” he said, recalling how he felt as the organization came together in the initial hours and days after the flood.

A shared desire to help out where needed is the common thread that binds the Cajun Navy together and bound them life family. Another such member of the Cajun Navy family is Flint Theriot, who grew up in the area and used his knowledge of “every backroad, every bit of water for miles and miles around,” to answer the call of his neighbors in need.

“YOU DON’T THINK TWICE. IF YOUR NEIGHBOR NEEDS THEIR LIFE SAVED OR THEY’RE HUNGRY OR THEY NEED A BOWL OF RICE, YOU’RE GOING TO GIVE IT TO THEM AND IT’S INGRAINED IN OUR COMMUNITY” – ROB GAUDET
For Theriot, this was an opportunity to help that he couldn’t pass up. “There was always stuff that I was too young to help or didn’t have the equipment or anything,” he said. “So when this one came about, I was like ‘I have the boat for the job, I’ve been (boating in the area) since I was a kid, so I’m going.’”

Of course, it wasn’t just people that needed to be rescued, but pets, wildlife, and livestock as well. The Cajun Navy was working hard to rescue all creatures great and small.

In one case, the boater gives the animal all of the credit for being a hero. Cajun Navy member Jake Donaldson was led by a horse named Jackie to four people and four dogs that needed to be rescued. He had gone past driveways where families were stranded and believed the homes to be empty until he heard a woman calling for Jackie. When he went back towards the voice, Jake found the woman and her husband, and well as their neighbors and pets, trapped on their rooftops. From there, it was like so many other rescues he had done, “doing what I do for my neighbors and what I hope my neighbors would do for me.”

The storm, Donaldson said, took a town that was “about to erupt, we were about to go to war with each other,” and got the community to work together, to “love one another, love thy neighbor.” As for Jackie, she was also rescued and was treated for skin issues, but is doing well. She doesn’t know that she’s a hero to her family and her neighbors.

Tristan and KevinMany animals needed rescue from the floods too, including this 6 ft. tall emu / Photo: Tristan Patterson
Throughout his experience with the Cajun Navy, Tristan Patterson estimates he helped about 300 people and half as many animals, including a pig, a baby deer (which went home with a police officer), a group of herding dogs and a fully-grown cow that nearly sank his boat. However, he is best known among his colleagues for the rescue of a 6-foot emu.

Patterson saw the emu safe on high ground one morning. Unable to get the bird into his boat, he moved on to more urgent rescues. By the end of the day, however, Patterson saw the emu again, this time up to his neck in water.

“I decided I was going to get out of the boat and get it out of the water and bring it back,” he said, “it was worn out and shaking, so I kind of just petted it and got it used to me and it finally let me touch it. You could tell somebody had it somewhat domesticated.”

Once on the boat, Patterson and his partner kept the exotic animal calm. He then lured the emu into the front seat of his truck with bites of bread. “It rode the whole way home in the front seat,” he said.

As luck would have it, Patterson keeps chickens, which eat the same food as emus and can live in the same coop. So, Patterson named the emu Kevin (after the character in the movie “Up”) and put him in with the chickens, where he has thrived. As for the chickens, “they just started looking up at it,” Patterson. But they’ve gotten used to their new friend, who is doing well and, Patterson says, “loves attention.”

Not only did Patterson give up his time to help his neighbors, he sacrificed his job as a welder, too. He lost his job. “If it had been the recovery, I would have went to work,” he said, “but while people were still flooded in, we still had to do search and rescue, I couldn’t go back to work knowing those people were out there. After being the difference to 30 or 40 people right there, between life and death, you can just feel it. Having your vehicle and boat out there when somebody else’s gets washed away. Being right there, you realize you can be one of those statistics so quickly.”

Amelia Hamilton is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @ameliahammy.