The Cajun Navy: Ordinary Citizens To The Rescue

When floodwaters overcome southern neighborhoods, Cajun Navy volunteers are often the first to respond, purely out of human kindness.

Using skills honed from Louisiana’s 5,000 miles of navigable streams, a very special group of boaters, collectively called the Cajun Navy, sets “sail” to help rescue victims from floods, not only in their state but in other states as well. This 100%-volunteer-based navy is made up of hundreds of private boat skippers and crews who offer their time and boat-handling expertise to help people in need.

To join this navy, all you need to do is respond to the calls for boat handlers circulated on social media. These altruistic individuals show up in pickup trucks trailering boats and head to the location in need; people without boats find friends with small watercraft or join crews as strangers, and end up as comrades in life jackets.

Hurricane Relief Underway!

The Cajun Navy is currently helping with Hurricane Ida relief efforts.

What are “Cajuns”?

Cajuns descended from Acadians exiled in the mid-1700s from what is now known as the “Maritimes of Eastern Canada.” They speak a very distinctive version of French used by other French descendants in Louisiana. Cajuns have their own holidays and celebrations (like Mardi Gras), cuisine, and musical traditions. After World War II, they lived a largely insular life in southern Louisiana. Cajuns’ historical reputation for self-sufficiency, which includes hunting and fishing, goes hand-in-hand with a joie de vivre that lets them laugh at themselves.

Cajun navy

Do You Have To Be Cajun To Join The Cajun Navy?

But you don’t have to be Cajun to be in the Cajun Navy. All you need is a truck, a boat—or a few good friends with these things—and the desire to help those in need.

Hurricane Harvey

Lee Mouk, a 51-year-old manufacturer’s sales representative and member of the Cajun Navy took his boat from Baton Rouge to Houston in August 2017 after Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 50 inches of rain on Houston and the surrounding communities.

Local Patriotism

Neighbors of Chris and Canette Liddy and Clyde and Van Day jokingly called themselves an honorary squadron of the Cajun Navy. They used a canoe, wheelbarrows, and pickup trucks to remove belongings from the couples’ houses after a freak 30-inch deluge fell on Baton Rouge over the course of two days in August 2016.

The neighbors came day after day, hauling soaked furniture and carpeting to the curb. They tore out sodden walls and set up fans to dry the inside of the houses before mold could set in. At last, matters were left to the flooded families and a contractor they shared.
Merely a half-year later, there was a big jambalaya dinner to celebrate the families’ return to their houses. Neighbors sat in chairs on grass a canoe had once passed over.

A reporter who sailed with the Cajun Navy in Texas summed up rescuers’ motivations perfectly as a “three-way split between religious ‘love-thy-neighbor’ local-patriotism, and the rush of adrenaline adventure.”

To learn more about the Cajun Navy and how you can volunteer, visit:
Cajun Navy Relief Facebook page

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Ed Cullen

Ed Cullen is a features writer for The Advocate, based in Baton Rouge, La., and a frequent contributor to All Things Considered on National Public Radio. A collection of his popular newspaper and radio essays was published in 2006. His article, Southern Superstitions appears in the 2019 Farmers' Almanac.

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