'Cajun Navy' Came Quickly After Tornadoes, but What Is It, Exactly?

They're called the Cajun Navy, but they're not just one organization.

by Lee Roop, Alabama Media Group, Birmingham / March 6, 2019
Tornado damage in Smith's Station, Alabama, 2019. Joe Songer/Alabama Media Group/TNS

(TNS) — They started Alabama's way from Louisiana as soon as word went out about Sunday's deadly tornadoes in Lee County. It was the same when Hurricane Michael flattened Mexico Beach, Fla., last year. It's been the same since 2016. People were in trouble, and they went on the road.

They're called the Cajun Navy, but they're not one organization. The Louisiana Secretary of State's website lists 11 different organizations with "Cajun Navy" in their name. The best known, perhaps, is Cajun Navy 2016. It is named for the year it was founded by two friends in Baton Rouge after they had volunteered in the catastrophic flooding there.

"We're the ones that have been to the White House multiple times," Vice President Billy Brinegar said Tuesday. "We do things the right way. We try to get involved with the local EOCs (Emergency Operations Centers) or fire departments or whoever, just coordinate with them so they know we're on the scene and we work together."

If you're going to volunteer, that's the way to do it. FEMA encourages people to join Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) and learn basic disaster response skills including light search and rescue.

"We are a search and rescue team," Brinegar said of Cajun Navy 2016. "We try to do the first response. Let's get there. Let's get you out of your house to safety or whatever the case may be."

"By no means am I putting these people down," Brinegar said of others that may share the Cajun Navy name. "But we try to hold true to ourselves. We try to do the right thing for us. Work with local officials. Try to help people."

Two members from the Baton Rouge division headed to Alabama immediately, and 10 more converged on the scene from what Bridger called "the Alabama Division." Cajun Navy 2016 founder John Bridgers was on Baton Rouge television Monday night talking about helping search for a missing man whose daughter had died in the storm.

"We're playing a small part and trying to make a difference," Bridgers said in the WAFB interview. "It's kind of heartbreaking to walk through this area and everybody's possessions are on the ground. There's pictures everywhere."

By early Tuesday, it was time to head home. "Our SAR teams will be heading home this morning," the organization posted on its Facebook page. "Thanks to so many showing up to help with Search and Rescue most areas have been searched. The EMA representative has stated that they have the rest of the areas covered with numerous police, fire fighters, and other officials! This is good news! Lee County has done a phenomenal job in responding to this storm. We are especially proud of our Alabama Division that responded immediately. Please pray for our teams as they head home today, the officials still there, and especially the people of Lee County! #leecounty#cajunnavy #cajunnavy2016"

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