Fortunately or unfortunately, many residents have witnessed their selfless work first-hand in Louisiana, Texas, Florida and North Carolina.

They're a light in the storm, literally.

Discovery will turn its own spotlight on these ordinary heroes when "Cajun Navy" debuts Tuesday night.

Given the greenlight a year ago, the two-hour documentary shadows a few of the hundreds of hurricane and flooding rescuers, these boaters on a solitary mission: to help others in their time of need.

The harrowing footage goes as far back as 2005's Hurricane Katrina, when breached levees put New Orleans underwater, taking 1,833 lives with it. The Cajun Navy wasn't a recognized group then, just random folks who owned boats and wanted to do something.

Regrouping in a more structured form to assist in south Louisiana's epic flooding in 2016 and hurricanes elsewhere since, the Cajun Navy umbrella now includes the Scott-based America's Cajun Navy (and its chapters, the Hammond-based Louisiana Cajun Navy and Texas Cajun Navy), the Watson-based Cajun Navy 2016, the Lafayette-based Cajun Navy Acadiana, the New Orleans-based Cajun Navy Relief & Rescue and the Baton Rouge-based United Cajun Navy.


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And don't forget the Cajun Special Forces, the Cajun Army, and the Cajun Commissary, who assist post-flood with providing survivors with food, water and supplies, gutting houses and other various rebuilding efforts, according to wikipedia.org.

Carlton Boudreaux, of Breaux Bridge, has been an official member of the Cajun Navy team since 2017, but his rescuing goes back much further.

"I've been part of a Cajun Navy since I was born," the 50-year-old said in his thick Cajun dialect. "My father taught me that when you see someone on the side of the road, you stop and you help them. We did lots of fishing in Atchafalaya growing up. There were no cellphones. If a boater broke down, we'd tow him into the landing. It's a way of life for us, ya know?"

When a co-worker who lived in New Orleans was forced to his home's second story by post-Katrina floodwaters, Boudreaux and his boss hitched up the aluminum skiff and brought supplies.

"That guy's neighbors started asking, 'Can you do this for me?' It was just a chain reaction," Boudreaux recalled, adding that everywhere you turned, someone needed help. 

Since the Cajun Navy wasn't a recognized rescue group then, it did cause some conflict with official emergency agencies, the documentary points out.

"They didn't want us in there," Boudreaux said. "They were worried about looters and all." 

Although the show does cover Katrina, Louisiana's unnamed 1,000-year flood in August 2016 gets only a minute, and that comes at about 40 minutes into the two-hour show. A woman and her dog are seen being rescued from a sinking car in Baton Rouge. 

The bulk of the footage, meanwhile, tracks the Cajun Navy's efforts during and after Hurricane Florence in North Carolina in September 2018.

Besides Boudreaux, those featured in the Carolina segments include Allen Lenard, an oilfield worker and farmer from Monroe; Ben Husser, a sound engineer and director, of Hammond; Jon Bridgers, a Cajun Navy founder from Walker; Mitch Collier, a crawfisherman and alligator hunter from Bayou Pigeon; and Cajun Special Forces member Kip Coltrin, of Sulphur.

Boudreaux also brought his first mate, then 15-year-old son Brayton, to North Carolina. It proved a bonding experience for both, the elder Boudreaux said.   

"He got to see what devastation really is, and how somebody could lose everything they own in the blink of an eye. He learned to appreciate what he has, even though it's not as nice as the neighbor's house, we have a house," he said. "Whereas, these people who got flooded, they no longer have a home even, you know. And he saw animals needing rescue, and he saw animals dying, and it made him realize what life is and how life is really valuable and you can lose it in the blink of an eye.

"I saw my son (now 16) transition into a more mature person when he witnessed this, and he has a new outlook on life." 

A segment follows rescuers including Boudreaux as they launched boats into the Cape Fear River and headed about six miles upstream.

"We'd go into the flooded timber areas where the homes were, where the dog was (that he helped rescue), where other animals were," he said. "They had some horses and some goats and pigs and donkeys. It looked like Noah's Ark sitting on a mound just waiting for some fresh water and food."

During the film as Boudreaux, a former elevator technician, volunteer fireman and crawfisherman but now disabled, maneuvers through unknown waters, he discusses his personal life, including being separated from wife Lisa (they've since reunited). The couple also has an 18-year-old daughter, Carli. 

"We are happier than we ever have been," he said last week.

Having a family to return home to keeps Boudreaux going back storm after storm, flood after flood. Helping others is rewarding, but the dark side is the harrowing images permanently etched in his memory, he said.

"In New Orleans (after Katrina), when I saw a deer on the second story of a building, and he had his antlers caught in the railing, that I'll never forget," he said. "He was deceased when I saw him, but I know that poor little animal had to struggle and he died struggling, couldn't break free, you know?"


'Cajun Navy'

WHEN: 9 p.m. Tuesday

CHANNEL: Discovery


'Rescue talk'

"We see no races. This is all togetherness, which is a wonderful thing to see."

— Mitch Collier, Bayou Pigeon

"Every hurricane creates chaos. The sheer power is unreal."

— Ben Husser, Hammond

"The dynamic of the Cajun Navy is to save people's lives."

— Allen Lenard, Monroe


Email Judy Bergeron at jbergeron@theadvocate.com.