‘Cajun Navy’ rescues hundreds from record flooding

‘We remember when people came to help us,’ St. Bernard Parish boater says

As water poured form the heavens and swamped the greater Baton Rouge area, a group of St. Bernard Parish surface drive boaters quickly organized and headed west to help with rescue operations — eventually saving hundreds of people stranded by waters too fast to allow them to get to out.

“We remember when people came to help us (after Hurricane Katrina),” said Violte’s Jared Serigne, who became the de facto admiral of the so-called Cajun Navy.

Serigne, the producer of Sportsman TV, put out a call to boaters on his Facebook page Sunday morning. The initial plan was to go to the Denham Springs area, which received upwards of 28 inches of rain that swamped 90 percent of the homes in the city.

However, as roads closed and it was apparent they would have difficulty reaching that part of the flood zone, Serigne and his 60-boat crew headed to the Sorrento area to help those in Port Vincent that were beginning to go under water.

These boaters were just a few of hundreds of people who launched off highways across the Baton Rouge area to rescue people, some of whom were forced onto their roofs by quckly rising waters.

Serigne’s group launched off Highway 431 and immediately began pulling people to safety. Serigne estimates they saved 200 to 300 people.

“We were the first responders there,” he said. “The only authorities there were two St. Bernard (Parish) cops. Other than that, there were no other authorities organizing the effort.”

The crew continued working Sunday and Monday, but as the official response cranked up it became more difficult for individual boaters to play a part.

The author was turned away when he offered to launch yesterday, with an Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputy saying there were too many individual boaters in the water interfering with official efforts. He also said boaters were causing some property damage and at times were spinning their props, thus requiring rescue themselves.

And Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Foundation’s Chris Macaluso, who lives in the Baton Rouge and launched his boat to help upwards of 60 people to safety, said it was dangerous at times.

“The current was so strong in areas … Sunday it was dangerous,” Macaluso said by text. “(I g)round the prop on my father-in-law’s boat to a nub, but I couldn’t help it.”

Ken Sherman of Front to Boat Back Service launched a boat and helped get people out of the Baton Rouge area Saturday before turning to help those near his Prairieville home as flood waters moved south, confirmed that.

“The current was so fast it was scary,” Sherman said. “It was like being in the ocean, except there were trees. You would get in areas where it was just dangerous.”

By Monday afternoon, Serigne began recommending groups of boaters not launch together because authorities were making it so difficult for private individuals to help.

He said the response — which extended past his Cajun Navy crew to include private boaters from all over the state and even from Mississippi — was critical in those first two days.

“We were able to mobilize faster (than the authorities) because we didn’t have to work through layers of bureaucracy. It was just guys who love to hunt and fish, and we just treated it like we were organizing a fishing trip.”

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.