The Cajun Navy has entered popular vernacular, but what do we know about the group?
The famed Cajun Navy came to be when a Former Louisiana state senator Nick Gautreaux pleaded for someone, anyone to assist after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Between 350 and 400 people and their boats answered the call. The makeshift flotilla rescued more than 10,000 people from flooded homes and rooftops.
The group quietly returned to back bayou watering holes knowing the next big one is just a reality of Gulf Coast living. In August 2016, Louisiana was hammered again by a no-name storm and historic flooding. The Cajun Navy fired up airboats, Jon boats, and rafts, re-emerging to save neighbors.
A year later, they mobilized again for the citizens of Houston, Texas.
The difference this time was social media and smartphone apps that mobilized this unofficial group. With countless cars flooded, these sportsmen took direction from first responders and helped gather donated food, water, and supplies, delivering to remote, hard-to-reach areas.
Social media—in particular, the Zello app—brought them together 24 hours after Hurricane Harvey came ashore. Mobilizing in a Costco parking lot in Baton Rouge, they employed another app, Glympse, to track the hundreds of boats, RVs and big trucks that took donated supplies into Texas and various staging sites.
Jon Bridgers Sr. is the founder of the modern-day Cajun Navy. “Everyone trained in the year since our big flood; this year, we were tested,” he said. No one is paid; they are all volunteers, using their own money, their own gas, and their own food to help first responders who were quite simply unable to be everywhere in a disaster of this magnitude.
And as Hurricane Florence trudged her way through the Carolina’s, dumping unprecedented amounts of rain, the Cajun Navy sprang into action again. The group says they helped rescue more than 150 people. Terrified parents, sleepy toddlers, and scores of elderly were trapped in attics as the water moved higher.
“It’s not that local firefighters and police can’t get it done. But the extra help means a lot,” said Blair Burgess, a South Carolina resident told the Washington Post. “You can never have too many hands. You never want to be wishing you had 15 more boats to save 15 more lives.”
As the folks at FEMA are fond of saying, it’s not a question of if Florida and surrounding states being hit by a Category 5 storm. It’s a question of when. Hurricane Irma was the wake-up call, Florence was yet another reminder We like the notion of helping neighbors, whether they are a block away, a city away or as the Louisiana Cajun Navy demonstrated, a state away.
Social media and mass communication applications are changing emergency responses. Learn more about Zello and how it connects users.
Story by Alan Wendt, Southern Boating, November 2017
Note: Updated in the wake of Hurricane Florence (October 2018)