The devastation of Louisiana's record flooding became real for Timmy Toups on Saturday as he scrolled through his Facebook feed. Toups, an electrician living south of New Orleans, realized this wasn’t like
Hurricane Katrina. These folks didn’t know to evacuate.
“These people don’t flood,” Toups said.
Not normally, anyway. “They live on high ground. Probably most of them don’t even have flood insurance. People were crying for help on Facebook, just putting out any call for help.”
So Toups, 35, decided to lend a hand. He found a babysitter that night for his kid (his wife works nights as a nurse) and began contacting friends. By 9 a.m. Sunday, he and two friends rolled out in his truck with a fishing boat in tow and no plan but to help people in need.
By the end of Monday, Toups said he found himself with 20-some other volunteer rescuers whose boats sailed through murky floodwaters to deliver supplies and rescue those trapped after the storm that claimed at least 11 lives and left more than 40,000 homes damaged. It is some of the worst flooding in Louisiana history.
Such makeshift flotillas popped up across the region over the weekend. Many are operating under a name familiar in Louisiana: the Cajun Navy.
Eleven years ago, in the wake of Katrina, the original Cajun Navy formed as civilians took to the water in their boats to aid fellow Louisianians. They saved thousands, by some estimates. And as floodwaters once again put untold thousands in need over the weekend, the flotillas of the Cajun Navy – or at least the latest versions of it – rose again.
“The reality of the Cajun Navy is everybody out here with a boat that isn’t devastated gets out and helps others,” said Clyde Cain, a 53-year-old from
Tangipahoa Parishwho runs the Facebook page Louisiana Cajun Navy. “We’re just one big network.”
The Facebook page filled over the weekend with photos of volunteers cooking jambalaya for hungry neighbors in Springfield or sailing their boats through flooded streets. Posts told readers where to meet – to help or to get help.
Cain, who describes himself as a well-networked entrepreneur, started the Facebook page as a hub to connect needs with resources. He wasn’t a part of the original Cajun Navy, but he hopes to flesh out his Facebook group into a legitimate organization with registered volunteers who are organized to work with authorities should another storm strike.
Many of the volunteer efforts on the page unfolded southeast of Baton Rouge.
Toups, who met Cain years ago through work, expressed amazement at how this version of the navy’s fleet came seemingly out of nowhere.
“A lot of it was hunting boats, shallow draft duck hunting boats with mud motors. Twenty-something foot boats with outboard motors,” he said. “Airboats. Pirogues. Kayaks. You name it. Everybody was wide open, going at it.”
Toups himself had a flat-bottomed boat built for crawfishing, he said, the kind made for sweeping between trees in the swamp. His crew worked the villages east of Baton Rouge. When they saw another boat, they’d flag its driver down. They’d ask where he came from, and what people needed in that direction. And then with water, snacks and
Gatorade in tow, they’d set off that way.
Some would deny their help, he said, insisting others further down were worse off. Others, thinking the water would soon recede, refused to climb aboard, he said. They gave them water and moved on.
Toups knows of Cain’s plan to form a registered Cajun Navy, one recognized by local governments and able to help authorities when the next storm hits. For locals like him, who own boats and know the land, it just makes sense, he said.
“They can only do so much,” Toups said. “We have resources. We live in boats. My whole family is commercial fishermen. I grew up on the water. There is not too much that I’m going to come across out there that I cannot deal with on the fly.”