The Cajun Navy: The Rescuers

Through hell and high water, the Louisiana groups form a river of relief

Photo: Denny Culbert

Flint Theriot tests an airboat donated to Cajun Navy Relief and Rescue in Black Bayou, south of his home in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Flint Theriot got the call in the wee hours of the morning last September 19: An elderly woman confined to a wheelchair was trapped in her Vidor, Texas, home, and the water was rising fast. Theriot, a thirty-one-year-old crane operator from Lake Charles, Louisiana, had been in Southeast Texas for a few days by then, rescuing people with his flat-bottomed boat from houses flooded by Tropical Storm Imelda, one of the United States’ wettest storms on record.

When Theriot arrived at the woman’s house, the water was up to her neck, and her television—still on—was floating alongside her. “I could feel the electricity in the water,” says Theriot, who had previously taken his boat on rescue missions during the devastating Louisiana floods in 2016, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and Hurricane Barry in 2019. The electricity, he says, “knocked my breath away.” He continued in anyway and pulled the woman to safety, loading her in the truck of a local constable, who took her to a hospital.

Theriot is a member of the nonprofit Cajun Navy Relief and Rescue, one of a number of disparate groups—mostly comprising volunteers organized through Facebook and mobile phone apps—who have taken on the moniker “Cajun Navy,” a title inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when hundreds of boats rescued thousands of people from flooded houses and nursing homes in New Orleans. When major weather events strike across the South, members of such groups take their airboats, bay boats, bass boats, pirogues, and even kayaks to the highways, forming a great river of relief that flows into disaster areas. The various Cajun Navy groups have provided invaluable assistance during and after Hurricanes Matthew, Irma, Florence, Michael, and Dorian, as well as various tropical storms, floods, and tornadoes.

Through all of this hell and high water, the Cajun Navy groups have brought to light the best impulse of humanity, of people selflessly helping others. “When you have the means and opportunity to help relieve suffering, you do it,” says Clyde Cain, who has taken part in rescue missions since Hurricane Rita in 2005 and is the CEO and founder of another such group, known as the Louisiana Cajun Navy. “Compassion is love in action.”


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