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.
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.
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.
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.”