Hurricane Harvey wasn’t the only force bearing down on Texas in August 2017. As Houston-area residents hurried to prepare for the approaching storm, members of the Louisiana Cajun Navy (LCN) ramped up their volunteers and headed towards the biggest point of impact.
Who Are The Cajun Navy?
The Louisiana Cajun Navy is a grassroots organization of truck-driving, boat-owning folks who drop everything and rush to the aid of those endangered by Mother Nature. Their organization is officially registered with the State of Louisiana, and as the waters rise, the numbers of the LCN grow. On a calm day, there are four main members and eight administrators. But, when disaster strikes, the call goes out and, like all good Cajuns, they show up with the tools needed to make things happen.
Cajuns are a distinct cultural group living in Louisiana. Their French-speaking ancestors migrated there in the late 1700s and early 1800s from the region known as Acadia in the maritime provinces of eastern Canada. They were called Acadians, from which the term Cajun came, supposedly from an English mispronunciation of the French Acadien. Rural living, family-centered neighborhoods, Roman Catholicism, and the Cajun French language characterize their lifestyle. It is a simple outdoor way of life, living off the land—hunting, fishing, and trapping—with God at the center of it all.
Clyde Cain, Admiral of the Louisiana Cajun Navy, along with Cory Labat, Vice Admiral, and Captains Jordy Bloodsworth and Keith Bryant leave behind family, homes and jobs to perform boat rescues. All of them grew up on the bayou where living on the water is a way of life and a child learns at an early age how to operate a boat on a river, whether fishing for dinner or hunting for ducks.
Rooted In Need
The group loosely formed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and came together full force in 2016 when the historic flooding of the Amite River in Baton Rouge threatened Clyde’s daughter and grandson in the Albany/Springfield area of Louisiana. Clyde and Cory mobilized a group to rescue them, and proceeded to rescue others.
When Hurricane Harvey threatened Texas, Jordy said, “I can’t just sit back and watch. I have a perfectly good custom-built aluminum flatboat with a gator-tail motor that can negotiate swift current or shallow floodwaters. It has an open cockpit that can easily accommodate wheelchairs. I have every resource I need within 100 feet of me to help.”
Loading extra gas, first-aid kits, tools, spare parts for the motor, food, water and guns into their trucks, the LCN and their team of volunteer boaters convoyed to Texas. With water lapping at the cab of Clyde’s Chevy Tahoe towing Jordy’s boat, they headed east on I-10 through what they fondly called, “Lake I-10,” along with 25 other boat-towing trucks, to help their Texas neighbors. For a tense 30 minutes, whitecaps broke across the interstate and wakes pounded the trucks as they drove through three-foot high water.
Cajun Navy Against the Elements
They fought the elements of wind, rain, and floodwater for five days as Hurricane Harvey slowly meandered its way around south Texas. It dumped a total of 27 trillion gallons of water. Cory organized the boat launching operation. Boaters were loading and unloading from the sides of highways. Those are not your average boat launch. Someone needed to orchestrate this task and Cory took up the challenge. Clyde coordinated with other LCN members as Jordy began rescuing residents.
Jordy isn’t new to boat rescues. He and others performed numerous rescues during the 2016 flooding in Louisiana. The most dramatic was rescuing the nuns from their homes at the Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center in Baton Rouge. Several of the sisters were in wheelchairs. Thankfully, the wide cockpit of his boat was able to accommodate wheelchairs when other rescue boats could not.
Never Give Up
The LCN worked tirelessly each and every day and well into the night, often sleeping in their trucks with a hand on their gun. One evening they found themselves trapped in a flooded area. Nearby were 150 residents of a trailer park taking refuge in a neighbor’s garage as the water inched higher. Swift currents and high water pushed the boat into the tops of trees over and over, making for a slow trip. When they were finally able to reach the area, they encountered two people pushing a motor-less boat carrying an elderly woman in dire shape. Utilizing their airboat, they were able to take her on board, scoot down the middle of the pavement into higher waters, and reach a waiting helicopter to take her to medical assistance.
The team unanimously agrees that the hardest part of performing rescues is not knowing the outcome of those they have rescued. Per Jordy, “We don’t get names or numbers. We just give them water and food in the boat, keep them warm and transport them to dry ground, where they are taken care of based on their individual needs.” LCN estimates they performed 250-plus rescues in that five-day period.
Clearly there are many risks to this undertaking. Yes, high water and swift currents are extreme threats. But, there are more— alligators, snakes, ants, downed power lines, infectious diseases and other dangers. “We all understand the risk we are exposed to, but we are ready and willing to help those in need,” shared Clyde.
When the waters recede and the rescues are completed, the LCN shifts to the next level of assistance: reaching out to contacts all over the country for donations of supplies. The first wave supplies critical needs, such as medical necessities, water, diapers, non-perishable food, cleaning products, and toiletry items. From there, they move to providing tents, sleeping bags, generators, ice chests, mini refrigerators, crockpots and more. They seek out the hardest hit areas that are being neglected, arrange and set up a distribution point and coordinate shipments. People all over the country are donating desperately needed items. In Clyde Cain words, “The Louisiana Cajun Navy takes no glory. All of this is the work of God and the glory must be His.”
One such hard hit area was Patton’s Village in Splendora, Texas, an area devastated by Harvey’s flooding rains. Local police officer, Michael White, took me for a tour on the department’s ATV. The two neighborhoods we toured are less than a mile from the police station, which is located on the highest point. Along Peach Creek, a tributary of the San Jacinto River, you can’t see a water line because the water completely covered the roofs of the houses. The water was raging with such ferocity that the road was completely undermined, leaving in its path many sinkholes. Some contained vehicles, portions of homes and one even had an RV buried in it.
The city brought in 70-80 loads of gravel/sand mix to rebuild the road so residents could return and assess their damages. I met several neighbors as they came to pick up needed supplies. Some still seemed in shock as the volunteers loaded them up with food, cleaning kits, diapers, toiletries, cat food, dog food, water and especially a smile. One person determined to put a smile on every face was Officer White, who suffered 6 1/2 feet of floodwaters in his home, where he left his wife and six children to fend for themselves while he served his tour of duty protecting and rescuing the patrons of Patton Village.
United States Representative Robert “Beto” O’Rourke flew into Houston to visit specifically with the Louisiana Cajun Navy and tour some of the hard hit areas. We visited neighborhoods that had taken on 7-plus feet of water. The Congressman wanted to learn what was lacking, what needed to happen next and how to best help the constituents of his state. We visited with a few residents. An elderly gentleman, Juan, had started the clean up and gutting process of his home for the second time in less than six months. His wife wasn’t there. She was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Two devastating floods so close together were taking their toll on her health.
In addition to everything else, the LCN built “Hope Chests” for those in need. They purchased ice chests, which they filled with food and ice, with a label on top displaying in large letters the word “HOPE.” Clyde said, “Every time they open it, they will remember to have ‘HOPE.’”
Whether they are rescuing residents from high water, providing donations to hard hit areas or delivering “Hope,” the Louisiana Cajun Navy volunteers follows their hearts and God’s will to provide assistance to each and every person they possibly can. They intentionally search out those that other organizations have seemingly forgotten. It doesn’t matter to them if the town is close or far, easy to drive to or not, they are determined to help, to make a difference. Months after Harvey struck Texas they are still searching out the hardest hit areas and fulfilling their needs, regardless of how great or how small. No, they are not related to the people they are helping. No, they didn’t know those they are helping before Hurricane Harvey. But, today they are all friends, neighbors, and family bonded together.
This article is from the spring 2018 issue of The New Pioneer Magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.
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