Louisiana is no stranger to natural disasters. Long before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the levees in New Orleans, the area we know as Louisiana today has endured many, many catastrophes. Since 2000 alone, the state has been hit by 28 tropical storms and cyclones.
The people of Louisiana stopped sitting around to hope someone would come to rescue them from the rooftops some day. A group of private boat owners formed their own rescue flotilla to help in search and rescue efforts. They’re called the “Cajun Navy.”
Since 1965, these storms have caused more than $116 billion in damages to Louisiana, at the cost of countless lives. The earliest recorded deadly storms date back to 1856, where storms devastated the islands of Louisiana’s coast and reformed its landscapes forever.
Today, Louisiana is particularly vulnerable to storms and some places are more vulnerable to others. In New Orleans, for example, the city is protected from the water by a system of levees and pumps that remove rainwater that otherwise would not drain on its own. Low lying areas of the state are prone to flooding, which will only get worse as climate change exacerbates the issue by rising seas levels on the coast. Heavy rainstorms in the state have increased precipitation levels by 27 percent in the last 50 years, sending excess rainwater into the Mississippi River and the river delta.
You get the idea. Louisiana is prone to flooding. So when it happens, the Cajun Navy comes to the rescue.
Formed in the days following the devastation of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, the Cajun Navy has reactivated following major storms and tropical depressions ever since. They rescued thousands of people in the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, the Hidalgo County flood, Hurricane Florence, Tropical Storm Gordon, and Hurricane Michael.
The Cajun Navy is an informal group of boat owners, whether they’re using oar-powered kayaks, flat-bottomed fishing boats or their dad’s bass boat, these private citizens form in the flooded areas to help whomever they can.
Our first plan of action in any disaster is to complete our rescue missions and save lives. This means going out on the front lines while disaster is still striking and saving all the lives we can.
Our second plan of action is to bring relief to those who have been affected by tragedy. That means making sure everyone has clean water, fresh clothing, hot meals, and everything they need to feel comfortable and safe.
Our third plan of action is to help people rebuild their lives after a disaster. From demolition, clean up, organizing and distribution of supplies, we want to make sure every family has a place to call home again.
Ben Theriot of Prairieville, Louisiana was assisted in 2018 by the Cajun Navy. The next year, he was out in his own boat with the Cajun Navy. They set up a mobile command post in a privately-owned RV and communicated via walkie-talkie-type app. They coordinated rescue calls to citizens trapped in and on their houses, moderating communications and prioritizing rescues.
All as Hurricane Harvey blew around them.
Any time high waters threaten the lives of the people of Louisiana and there are lines of cars driving to make their way out of the dangerous areas, you can be sure to see a line of trucks trailing boats trying to make their way in. All with Louisiana license plates.