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‘Cajun Navy’ races from Louisiana to Texas, using boats to pay it forward

August 28, 2017 at 10:38 PM

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Volunteers from Louisiana, known as the “Cajun Navy,” make their way to the flooded areas of Texas, bringing with them supplies and boats. (Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post)

KATY, Tex. — As soon as Jordy Bloodsworth saw the images of Texans wading through Hurricane Harvey's gushing floodwaters, he borrowed his buddy's brand new Chevy truck, hitched his 18-foot fishing boat to the back and took off from his home in Baton Rouge.

Bloodsworth was just 12 years old when Hurricane Katrina dumped 14 feet of water on his family's home as the storm surged over the levee. They lost every photo, every cent.

What he gained, though, was a deep motivation to help his brethren in Texas during this week's historic deluge.

Related: [‘Water is swallowing us up’: Desperate flood victims turn to social media for survival]

He's part of a group that's known here as the "Cajun Navy," a volunteer online grass-roots effort that, along with the "Cajun Coast Search and Rescue Team," roared into Pasadena, Tex., on Sunday. They came in high-clearance pickup trucks with bass boats and pirogues like the Cajun Cavalry, ready to help search and rescue efforts alongside first responders who were inundated with thousands of calls across the region.

"I was young during Katrina and I know how it feels to lose everything," Bloodsworth said. "So being able to help others going through this situation that I have experienced, there's no way — no way — I could pass up helping."

On Monday morning in Pasadena, which was nearly inaccessible by road as it sat under deep floodwaters, Bloodsworth said there were "thousands of people in the water stuck." By midday, the flooding had gotten so bad that the rescuers got stuck, too.

"Some guys had boat troubles and had to leave their stuff, and we are saving our own team right now," Bloodsworth said in a text. But they are determined to push on.

Cajun Navy member Benji Terro, 36, and his cousin Todd Gaspard drove for more than four hours through flooded areas of Katy on Monday, helping people who were floating on air mattresses and in canoes, some of them carrying trash bags stuffed with changes of clothes and photo albums. He said they had rescued nearly 40 people so far.

"We're burning a lot of gas trying to get boots on the ground," Terro said. "But when we help people, well, that's the point, the whole thing. This is familiar ground for us. We are from Louisiana, and we know floods."

The rescues were often chaotic — with little organization and many residents flagging down help as they waded in the waters.

The Cajun Navy is part of an armada of private boats that have descended on the Houston area after authorities asked for help from those who could potentially navigate the treacherous floodwaters across a massive swath of southeast Texas in search of residents. Many boaters from east Texas and west Louisiana streamed to the outskirts of the disaster until they could drive no more, switching over to boats to go door to door seeking out the stranded.

epa06168742 Mindy Walker and her three year old son Connor Martinez are helped out of a boat after being rescued from their home along Cypress Creek at Kuykendal 15 miles northwest of downtown Houston, Texas, USA, 28 August 2017. The areas in and around Houston and south Texas are experiencing record floods after more than 24 inches of rain after Harvey made landfall in the south coast of Texas as a category 4 hurricane, the most powerful to affect the US since 2004. Harvey has weakened and been downgraded to a tropical storm and is expected to cause heavy rain for several days. EPA/MICHAEL WYKE
Alexendre Jorge evacuates Ethan Colman, 4, from a neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
A Houston fire department rescue boat is seen stranded near a car rental shop during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A truck driver walks past an abandoned truck while checking the depth of an underpass during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Flood victims walk through a shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
People wait outside a shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A family salvages items from their garage after floodwaters receded during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Ducks make their way through floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A home is surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Belinda Penn holds her dogs Winston and Baxter after being rescued from their home as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Joe Garcia carries his dog Heidi from his flooded home as he is rescued from rising floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A row of tractors are surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Cattle are stranded in a flooded pasture on Highway 71 in La Grange, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
People evacuate a neighborhood in west Houston inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Stranded vehicles sit where they got stuck in high water from Hurricane Harvey on Dairy Ashford Drive, August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey made landfall shortly after 11 p.m. Friday, just north of Port Aransas as a Category 4 storm and is being reported as the strongest hurricane to hit the United States since Wilma in 2005. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Firefighters put out a fire during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Local apartment residents cross high water on North Braeswood Blvd to escape the flooding from Hurricane Harvey August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
A Jeep drives through a neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Spc. Garth Parks, left, and Pfc. Taylor Garen, center, chat as Garen packs her alert bag at the Tyler Armed Forces Reserve Center in Tyler, Texas, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. Unit 136 military police battalion has deployed some members and equipment for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in Houston while the headquarters unit waits for their mission instructions. (Chelsea Purgahn/Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP)
Robert Dressell of Tyler and Adam Turner of Tyler pack the back of a pickup truck with fuel before leaving from WC Custom Boats in Noonday, Texas to head to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey Monday morning, Aug. 28, 2017. The group took six boats stocked with fuel and water headed to the Houston area to assist in Hurricane Harvey rescue efforts. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People walk down a flooded street as they evacuate their homes after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LA GRANGE, TX-AUGUST, 28: Residents of La Grange view the devastation to parts of the downtown flooded by the Colorado river rising by 54 feet because of rains caused by Hurricane Harvey. Residents from this area were evacuated yesterday and the river flooded the area early this morning
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People get off busses after being rescued as they seek shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, TX on Monday, Aug 28, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: A Coast Guard helicopter lowers someone in Houston, TX on Monday, Aug 28, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: A man sleeps as people seek shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, TX on Monday, Aug 28, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People move from helicopters to busses as they land on Highway 69 after being rescued in Houston, TX on Monday, Aug 28, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People move from helicopters to busses as they land on Highway 69 after being rescued in Houston, TX on Monday, Aug 28, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
A man helps a woman get covered up at the George R. Brown Convention Center that has been set up as a shelter for evacuees escaping the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Robert Salgado, center, sleep with relatives Jesse Alexander Leija, right, and Leliana Salgado on the floor at the George R. Brown Convention Center that has been set up as a shelter for evacuees escaping the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Sam Speights exits a window of his home that was destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Rockport, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
WESTLAKE, TX - AUGUST 29: Texas Army National Guard members help down families that were rescued from their flooded Pine Forest Village neighborhood due to high water from Hurricane Harvey August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
A woman is wheeled by first responders into the George R. Brown Convention Center that has been set up as a shelter for evacuees escaping the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
People wait in line for an HEB grocery store to open during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 29, 2017 in Deer Park, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: Volunteers in boats rescue people and their pets from their homes near interstate 45 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
In this aerial photo, water is released from the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters rise from Tropical Storm Harvey on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Water from Addicks Reservoir flows into neighborhoods as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Residents evacuate their homes near the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Airplanes sit at a flooded airport near the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A Texas flag flies over floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in La Grange, Texas, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Highways around downtown Houston are empty as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey overflow from the bayous around the city Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: Volunteers in boats rescue people and their pets from their homes near interstate 45 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
US President Donald Trump(C) listens alongside Texas Governor Greg Abbott(L) and First Lady Melania Trump(R) during a firehouse briefing on Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 29, 2017. President Donald Trump flew into storm-ravaged Texas Tuesday in a show of solidarity and leadership in the face of the deadly devastation wrought by Harvey -- as the battered US Gulf Coast braces for even more torrential rain. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
REFILE - CLARIFYING LOCATION Isiah Courtney carries his dog Bruce through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Beaumont Place, Houston, Texas, U.S., on August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Volunteers line up to sign up to help with the shelter for victims of the flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey at a shelter opened at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Kingwood, TX-AUGUST, 29: Police and volunteers rescue residents flooded by the San Jacinto river in Kingwood, Texas. The boats are on a road that was passable yesterday.
Kingwood, TX-AUGUST, 29: Volunteer Dustin Langley, who lives two hours North of Houston and came down with a friend to volunteer, helps a family to their escape their flooded apartment in Kingwood, Texas. They placed them on their boat and took them to safety.
Kingwood, TX-AUGUST, 29: Volunteer Dustin Langley, who lives two hours North of Houston and came down with a friend to help, points to an apartment with stranded residents flooded by the San Jacinto river in Kingwood, Texas
People wait to help evacuees during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Hurricane Harvey has set what forecasters believe is a new rainfall record for the continental United States, officials said Tuesday. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: Larry Koser Jr. (L) and his son Matthew look for important papers and heirlooms inside Larry Koser Sr.'s house after it was flooded by heavy rains from Hurricane Harvey August 29, 2017 in the Bear Creek neighborhood of west Houston, Texas. The neighborhood flooded after water was release from nearby Addicks Reservoir. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
People wade through chest deep water down Pine Cliff Drive as Addicks Reservoir nears capacity due to near constant rain from Tropical Storm Harvey Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 in Houston. ( Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Local residents check the water level of the Barker Reservoir after the Army Corp of Engineers started to release water into the Clodine district as Hurricane Harvey caused heavy flooding in Houston, Texas, on August 29, 2017. Harvey has set what forecasters believe is a new rainfall record for the continental US, officials said Tuesday. Harvey, swirling for the past few days off Texas and Louisiana has dumped more than 49 inches (124.5 centimeters) of rain on the region. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTONMARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Volunteers and first responders work together to rescue residents from rising flood waters in Houston on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. Forecasters expect the storm to linger over the Gulf before heading back inland east of Houston sometime Wednesday. The system will then head north and lose its tropical strength. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)
Residents are rescued by a truck from floods caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in east Houston, Texas, U.S. August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: Glenda Montelongeo, Richard Martinez and his two sons are helped out of a boat after being rescued near Tidwell Road and Toll road 8 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: People are unloaded after being rescued by a large truck along Tidwell Road near Toll road 8 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: People are rescued by large trucks along Tidwell Road near Toll road 8 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Kingwood, TX-AUGUST, 29: Police and volunteers wait to help residents to shore who were saved by police and volunteers in boats from the flood caused by Hurricane Harvey in Kingwood, Texas
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: People are rescued by large trucks along Tidwell Road near Toll road 8 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: Downtown is seen from Highway 69 in North Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: People are rescued by large trucks along Tidwell Road near Toll road 8 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Samaritans help push a boat with evacuees to high ground during a rain storm caused by Tropical Storm Harvey along Tidwell Road in east Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WESTLAKE, TX - AUGUST 29: Texas Army National Guard members Sergio Esquivel, left, and Ernest Barmore carry 81-year-old Ramona Bennett after she and other residents were rescued from their Pine Forest Village neighborhood due to high water from Hurricane Harvey August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Photo Gallery: Houston officials described a vast rescue effort and said about 3,500 people had been brought to safety.

Painful and haunting memories of Hurricane Katrina run deep in what's informally known as the "Cajun corridor," between Texas and Louisiana. During Katrina, hundreds of Texans did just what Bloodsworth did, crossed the border and even the Sabine River to help rescue teams in New Orleans.

Related: [Harvey death toll rises as flooding continues]

Many families in Houston housed relatives and friends who were Katrina's victims, in some cases for months. Thousands have now made Houston home.

There are long-standing ethnic ties, and Cajun families often live across state lines and are connected by fishing and oil refinery jobs in both states. Many say these regions of Texas and Louisiana are mirror images, with the largely flat landscape dotted with oil refineries with their mazes of pipes and tanks and flare stacks burning high above them like giant torches.

"I vividly remember that many Texans came to Louisiana's aid, which was incredible to me," said Taylor Aucoin, who is in Baton Rouge working with an app, called Zello, that allows her and her husband to radio in rescue requests to volunteers on the ground in Texas. "I can't really describe the heartbreak that I feel now for Texans. It's a very small thing we can do from here to kind of repay the favor for the help we received last year and countless other times."

The most terrifying call they got was from a young mom of an 8-week-old baby with breathing problems. The mother tweeted, asking for help for a couple hours with no luck. She then posted that her newborn was turning blue and was not breathing. Her phone was at 2 percent.

"Someone shared the tweets and I immediately had my husband calling the Coast Guard over and over," Aucoin said. Finally, he got on the Texas Search and Rescue channel on Zello, and they were able to send out boats and the Coast Guard. Last she heard, they were rescued and the baby was recovering.

Toney Wade, commander of the volunteer Cajun Coast Search and Rescue Team, stayed up to 3 a.m. and was at it again Monday morning.

"Tired, but rolling lol," he texted. "It's just what we do for each other."

Dressed in full hunting camouflage slickers, Todd Gaspard, with the Cajun Navy, was racing into floodwaters in the Cinco Ranch neighborhood of Katy, ready to assist. He helped out during Rita and Katrina, at times assisting with the rescue of cows whose noses were just sticking out of the water.

On Monday, he was on his way to save a woman who had water "right at her front door fixing to come in." Gaspard said helping people like her this week is just what he knows.

"Just the way we were brought up," he said. "You help your neighbor."

Related: Read more: How to help Texas residents affected by Harvey

Related: The cost of cleaning up Harvey will bring a new test for Trump and GOP

Related: Rains from Harvey obliterate records; flooded area to expand


Emily Wax-Thibodeaux is a National staff writer who covers national news, with a focus on gender issues and social movements for the America desk. She is an award-winning former foreign correspondent who covered Africa and India for nearly a decade.

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