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Louisiana Flood Victims Aided By Members Of The 'Cajun Navy'

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the record-breaking floods in Louisiana have displaced 20,000 people from their homes and at least left seven people dead. Residents are attempting to clean up. But yesterday, officials warned that floodwaters still pose a major threat. Colonel Mike Edmonson is the superintendent of the Louisiana State Police.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE EDMONSON: Stay in your homes if you're in a safe location. Venturing out into the unknown only becomes problematic, and then we have to do a search and rescue on you.

MONTAGNE: Some of the worst flooding is around the Amite River, which overran its banks east of Baton Rouge. Ryan Kailath of member station WWNO went out to the river to try and report on the National Guard's rescue efforts.

RYAN KAILATH, BYLINE: At least that was the plan. But every road I tried, the water got there first. Trapped at the edges of towns turned into lakes, I could see water as high as doorknobs. But aerial photos taken further into the flood showed people trapped on rooftops, awaiting rescue. And it's not just the National Guard they're waiting for. Nearly every car on the road was a big pickup hitched to a big boat. This is what they called the Cajun Navy, an armada of volunteers helping their neighbors.

JAKE SHERMAN: We'll get in anywhere to help anybody. That's just Louisiana. That's what we do.

KAILATH: Jake Sherman (ph) drove in from an hour away. His area didn't flood, so he decided to come and help. But even getting the boat in the water turned out to be complicated.

SHERMAN: We trying to find a place to launch and also leave our vehicles and everything else in a safe place to where we don't come back to swamped vehicles.

KAILATH: A few yards away, Errol Tullier was standing ankle-deep in water at the edge of his driveway. He said his front yard was dry when he woke up. By noon, it was a moat.

ERROL TULLIER: Oh, you know, you had about 3 foot of water inside the house. I lost everything in there - everything.

KAILATH: How long you been in that house?

E TULLIER: Almost 50 - 55 years, 60 years.

KAILATH: Tullier's daughter-in-law Gretchen came over to help him salvage what he could. Ironically, she was both glad and frustrated with all the volunteer rescuers. The water was so high that every time a big truck drove by, it left a wake that sent big waves crashing into the house.

GRETCHEN TULLIER: A lot of people - we've seen the same car several times coming flying through here, pushing the wake through, putting waves back in people's houses. I mean, come on.

E TULLIER: Look at the wakes over there. Look at the wakes coming off of them cars. If they would just slow down a little bit.

G TULLIER: If you don't have to be on the road, just please stay home.

KAILATH: It's not that she's not grateful.

G TULLIER: It's a wonderful community, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that. Everyone's trying to help everyone. I mean, that's a good thing.

KAILATH: The Tulliers haven't seen a flood even close to this bad in over 30 years. And with as much as 8 inches of rain still expected this week, they're hoping the Cajun Navy won't become a common sight. For NPR News, I'm Ryan Kailath in south Louisiana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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