The Cajun Navy has been resurrected.
As Tropical Storm Harvey delivered a wallop Sunday to Louisiana’s neighbors in Texas, Louisianans remembered the many disasters that have struck home during their lifetimes. Amid the hurricanes, floods, tropical storms and other acts of nature that have thrashed the Gulf coast, the Texans chanted “howdy” as they arrived to help the boot below.
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The Pelican State managed Sunday to avoid most of Harvey’s fury. But around Baton Rouge, Lafayette and other parts of the state, members of the Cajun Navy sprung into action to return the neighborly love. Many who spent last August wading around south Louisiana’s floodwaters in boats packed them up Sunday and headed west to help rescue Texans caught in the floods.
The forms of help sent Sunday from Louisiana to Texas were both organized and ragtag. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards activated a search-and-rescue team with 10 agents, 10 trucks and 10 boats from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to help in eastern Texas, and has two other teams on stand-by.
Edwards also warned that Louisiana is not “out of the woods” and asked residents to remain vigilant as the state will remain in Harvey’s path for the next week.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch Sunday that lasts through Wednesday for much of southwest Louisiana, spanning from Rapides Parish in the north to Iberville Parish in the east. And forecasters are warning of continued rainfall throughout the week, with estimates in inches reaching the double-digits across much of the southern portion of the state.
"Nearly 12 years ago, Texans opened their doors to the people of Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina devastated our state," Edwards said. "In 2016, Texas Taskforce 1 was dispatched to our state to provide support during the historic floods. We will do nothing less to support to the people of Texas in any way that we can as they respond and recover from Hurricane Harvey.”
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By Sunday evening, Harvey had caused at least five reported deaths and catastrophic destruction in Texas. Louisianans begged the Texans to hang on and promised their help.
"I can't look at somebody knowing that I have a perfect boat in my driveway to be doing this and to just sit at home," said Jordy Bloodsworth, a Baton Rouge member of the Cajun Navy who flooded after Hurricane Katrina when he lived in Chalmette. "I have every resource within 100 feet of me to help.”
Bloodsworth was heading overnight on Sunday to Texas to help with search and rescue.
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Others arrived in Texas earlier on Sunday. Toney Wade had more than a dozen friends and five specially trained dogs in tow as he battled rain and high water to get to Dickinson, Texas.
Wade is the commander of an all-volunteer group of mostly former law enforcement officers and former firefighters called Cajun Coast Search and Rescue, based in Jeanerette. They brought boats and high-water rescue vehicles with them, along with food, tents and other supplies they learned the importance of having last year when they helped with flood rescues in the Baton Rouge area.
While his primary focus on Sunday was rescuing people, Wade also said his group is prepared to help recover those who do not survive.
"We have the K-9 team deployed in case it becomes a recovery mission," he said. "We're hoping it doesn't come to that."
Brandon Williams, a new member of the Cajun Navy, arrived about 2 p.m. Sunday in League City, Texas, just north of Dickinson, and spent the day pulling people from the water to safety.
"I heard about what (the Cajun Navy) did, so I just joined them," said Williams, 32, of Lafayette. "It's just a group of good people."
After watching the Saturday night news and seeing the devastation in Houston — a place Williams used to call home — he decided to put his boat to use.
Williams, who's a trained first responder, said there were more than 20 other Cajun Navy boats in the area Sunday. Throughout the day, he and his friend rode around flooded neighborhoods, where they were constantly flagged down for help. They helped rescue a nurse unable to get to work at a local hospital, some elderly women with their dogs, and a family of four whose car had just flooded. The water, in some areas, was more than 6 feet deep, Williams said.
Williams plans to stay in Texas as long as needed.
"We'll find out where everybody's headed next, (and) do what else we can do," he said.
Ezra Thom, part of the volunteer Cajun Navy, was also already in Victoria, Texas, on Sunday awaiting fellow volunteers to help with rescues. He drove from Lafayette on Friday with plans to help a buddy with tree removal after the storm — but then the water began rising.
He did not bring his boat this trip, which he has used in the past with the Cajun Navy, but said he's confident his truck will be useful in some rescues. Thom already evacuated from Pearland, Texas, just outside of Houston, where he was staying with friends.
Everywhere he went, he said, he encountered water.
"The water's coming up so fast; the roads down here are just not built to handle that stuff," Thom said. "The ground is completely saturated, rivers are way over what they're supposed to be. … I just help out when I can."
Tracie Allen spent much of Sunday working on the logistics and dispatching of the Cajun Navy from outside New Orleans, a role she found herself in a year ago as she desperately tried to find help for her kids stranded and flooded in Baton Rouge.
“There’s somebody else’ kids who need it (now),” Allen, 46, said. “Unfortunately there are more requests (for help) than our people.”
Allen and the behind-the-scenes portion of the Cajun Navy used social media and a walkie talkie-like smartphone app to connect people in need with their Cajun Navy. As of Sunday night, she knew three of their boats had made it to Dickinson, Texas, all of which immediately jumped in to help rescue people stranded at an elementary school in the area.
“We’re doing our best,” Allen said.
Update 3:37 p.m. Aug.27
However, many of their group of volunteers are choosing to hang back in Louisiana, she said, worried about what is yet to come in their own state.
The westernmost portion of the state is expecting anywhere from 10 to 20 inches of rain in the next day or two, said National Weather Service meteorologist Donald Jones, in the Lake Charles office.
"The big focus is going to the rainfall and the supplement to that will be river flooding," Jones said. As the storm moves inland, an isolated tornado threat also remains in southwest Louisiana into Monday. Jones said two touched down Sunday, one in northeast Vermilion Parish and one just south of New Iberia.
Many of those parishes, including Lafayette, Iberia and Acadia, have canceled school Monday.
The forecast calls for rainfall decreases moving eastward across the state, but with the storm moving slowly, the smaller daily amounts could add up as the week goes on, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Wagner, in the Slidell office.
"I would say the highest potential for the heavy rain would be Monday through Wednesday at this point (for the Baton Rouge and New Orleans area)," Wagner said. "This system is not in any hurry to get out of the east Texas and the Louisiana area."
Long before Harvey appeared on radar screens, the purple and gold faithful were planning trips to Houston to watch LSU play BYU in the football season opener — a game that may now change locations.
Freda Montgomery was among those planning a trip to the LSU game. But when she saw the weather reports and the flooding that swamped Houston on Sunday, she changed the purpose of her trip from cheering for purple and gold to delivering emergency essentials and house mucking supplies.
After last year's floods in Baton Rouge, Montgomery's Houston-based daughter and members of her church in Houston drove down with wheelbarrows, cleaning supplies, masks and other necessities to help gut houses in Baton Rouge. They spent a week working on houses, staying with Montgomery and her family in Baton Rouge.
So Montgomery joined forces on Sunday with Broadmoor United Methodist to pull off a similar feat, organizing a drive to deliver supplies later this week to St. Luke's United Methodist in Houston.
"It's more of a reciprocal gift of love back to them for what they did for us last year, plus we know they need it," Montgomery said on Sunday. "How many times has Louisiana been in the crossfire and how many times have people from other places helped us?"
Montgomery and her husband rented a U-Haul and plan to drive over with the supplies by Aug. 31 if the roads are open and they can get through by then. People can drop off supplies at the Broadmoor United Methodist Connection Cafe. They are collecting the bare essentials — buckets, laundry detergent, air freshener, sponges, trash brags, work gloves and other house mucking supplies — for the initial delivery.
Also bringing supplies back to Houston with him will be former Metro-Council member Joel Boé, whose Baton Rouge home flooded last year and whose family relocated to Houston just a few weeks ago in time for his four children to start the school year there.
But when they saw how bad the forecast looked late Aug. 24, Boé’s family fled back to Baton Rouge. His children's schools are closed until Aug. 29, at least.
They are now staying at the home that they rebuilt after the Baton Rouge floods, which is still on the market and has not sold yet. When he heads back, Boé plans to bring the fans, humidifiers and other rebuilding supplies he picked up over the past year along with him.
"After having gone through what we went through last year, we got the heck out of dodge," Boé said.
LSU sent a message to students Sunday afternoon promising help for students from Texas as their families and friends endured massive floods.
The university urged students to contact their college counselors at (225) 578-8281. Students looking for immediate mental health resources can call a hotline at (225) 924-3900. And LSU offers a food pantry at room 350 of the Student Union for any students in need of free food.
"Just as Gov. Edwards mentioned in his message to Louisiana citizens earlier today, Texas has been both a good neighbor and friend to Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as subsequent events," LSU President F. King Alexander wrote in a message to students. "Now, it is time for us to return the favor."
The Red Cross also opened a shelter in Rapides Parish for anyone in need during the severe weather, said Catherine Heitman, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Children and Families. As of noon Sunday, there were 16 people taking shelter in the Grace Christian Center in Glenmora — eight of whom are from Texas, Heitman said.