Two pontoons, a fishing dingy and a fleet of airboats motorboats that usually pull water skis aren't exactly what most people picture when they think of a savior during a natural disaster, but the Cajun Navy begs to differ. Ever since Hurricane Katrina, these private boaters moonlighting as aquatic first responders and hailing from Louisiana and other parts of the Gulf Coast and Texas have come to the rescue of hurricane and tropical storm victims in need.
Though the term Cajun Navy had been used before their "deployment" during Hurricane Katrina, it was during that disastrous event that nearly destroyed New Orleans when their relief efforts earned them the now-famous moniker. The volunteer rescue force distinguished themselves time and again during the disaster after then-Louisiana state senator Nick Gautreaux talked to local media and pleaded, "Anybody who wants to go help the people of New Orleans, please come to the Acadiana Mall." After Gautreaux's call went out, nearly 400 boats and people answered the plea for help and braved Katrina's floodwaters. All in all, the Cajun Navy is credited with helping about ten thousand people during Katrina.
That was just the beginning of their search and rescue efforts. When Hurricane Harvey pounded southeast Texas and especially Houston in 2017, the rescuers from the Cajun Navy came over from Louisiana en masse. They moved victims out from the flooding and to higher ground.
Later in 2017, in conjunction with Senator Marco Rubio, the Cajun Navy deployed to central and southern Florida to help its residents flee the storm surge from Hurricane Irma. When Hurricane Florence flooded North Carolina in 2018, the United Cajun Navy was once again on the scene, doing what they do best.
One of the most impressive stories from the Louisiana Cajun Navy's adventures came during the south-central Louisiana flood in 2016. Needing a way to organize, they turned to social media. One member taught other boaters to use Zello, a walkie-talkie like mobile app he used to communicate for gaming. People were also able to request rides from the Cajun Navy via the flotilla's Facebook page.
Though the Cajun Navy is still an ad-hoc, citizen-run rescue group, it has gotten a bit more organized than its slapped- together beginnings. There are now officially recognized groups in different areas of the southeast, and even President Trump acknowledged one of the chapters. (You can also become a Cajun Navy volunteer!)
Probably no one has ever summed up the impact and bravery of the Cajun Navy better than The Baton Rouge Advocate did when it wrote the following after the central Louisiana flood of 2016. The Advocate wrote, "The heroes hailed from the Cajun Navy, the nickname for an impromptu flotilla of volunteers who had no admiral, no uniforms, no military medals awaiting them for acts of valor. It was conscience, not a commanding officer, that summoned them into treacherous currents to carry endangered citizens to higher ground."
The Cajun Navy is the uniquely regional volunteer group that makes us all proud to be country and Americans.