By Carey Wedler
Though FEMA plans to play a large role in disaster relief efforts as Hurricane Harvey continues to inundate Texas, a volunteer group is stepping in to help their fellow humans — and it’s not the first time they’ve taken action.
The Cajun Navy first came into existence with 30 people and 23 rescue vessels during Hurricane Katrina and grew even larger amid severe flooding in Louisiana in 2016. The Guardian reported that last year — using social media — the group of hunters and fishermen were able to locate stranded residents and rescue them with their boats.
Their missions were all the more vital amid the government’s failure to adequately take care of victims and provide housing and relief. For example, Julie Ralph of St. Francisville, Louisiana, turned to Amazon, creating a page to accept donations of basic supplies. Ralph said that as the floodwaters cleared and rescue operations turned into recovery operations, the Cajun Navy became the Cajun Army. As she said last September:
As it stands, the boots on the ground are the Cajun Army, and anyone who can be summoned through Facebook or Twitter by people sharing how bad things are to get people to come over and help.
When the floods started hitting Texas this weekend, the Cajun Navy sprung back into action. Houston’s ABC 13 reported Monday that on Sunday, “a caravan comprising of pickup trucks and small fishing vessels made the trip from Louisiana swampland to the Houston area,” and the group has been making use of social media to find those who need rescuing.
Their Cajun Army Facebook group has over 10,000 members and provides a mode of communication for people to provide their location so rescuers can reach them, as does the Cajun Navy 2016 page, which has nearly 80,000 followers. They’re also tapping into other volunteer groups to find locations where people are stranded.
The Navy is advising stranded Texans to download the Zello Walkie Talkie app and use it to find search and rescue operations near their location.
John Bridgers, one of the founders of the Cajun Navy’s 2016 Facebook group, is volunteering in Texas. As he told the New Yorker, “When you pull up to an individual’s house and they’re wading out of five feet of water with a duffel bag over their head, and you pull them into your boat, you realize that’s all they’ve got in that moment. That stays with you, for good and bad.”
The New Yorker cited some of the pleas the Cajun Navy has received from Texans via social media:
‘Two Adults lady is 7 months pregnant,’ one post read. ‘3 lil ones under the age of 4,’ another said. ‘Two elderly in 80s, One in wheelchair. 1 Adult…2’ of water in house right now,’ another read. One message said that several senior citizens were ‘sitting in water chest deep’ in a nursing home.
NOLA reports that in at least one instance the Cajun Navy saved the life of a woman who might have otherwise died:
Three members of the Cajun Navy had already rescued stranded Texans Monday morning, including one elderly woman who had to be resuscitated. NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune reporter Todd Mason reported that Joshua Lincoln of Madisonville, Ricky Berrigan of Lacombe and Donnie Davenport of Pearl River saved 73-year-old Wilma Ellis when they found her face down in floodwaters northeast of Houston.
They also saved numerous lives last year during the Louisiana floods and in 20015 during Katrina.
WAFB provided footage of countless campers, trucks, boats, and even a high water rescue vehicle loading up on supplies at a local Costco, where individuals provided donations, helping to fill up the different forms of transportation before they left the lot. WAFB reported that volunteers told her that they received help during the Louisiana floods last year and they want to return to support.
Though government agencies are also attempting to provide relief, these voluntary solutions are playing a key role in ensuring as many people as possible have a chance to survive. Even Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards tweeted a message of support to the Cajun Navy.
Fifty inches of rainfall are expected by Wednesday, and one expert anticipates 21 trillion gallons of water before Harvey runs its course. Reports suggest at least 10 trillion gallons have already inundated Texas.