It was their last mission of the day, and the Coast Guard helicopter crew hovering over a flooded home near Baton Rouge thought there were four people who needed rescuing. But when their rescue swimmer dropped down to the rooftop, he discovered nine people and two dogs trapped by floodwaters, Lt. j.g. Simon Gottenberg said in a Coast Guard video.
The crew was able to lift three people into the helicopter on that trip. They dropped them off at the Baton Rouge airport and made two more trips to the flooded home to pick up everyone else.
The Coast Guard crew is among dozens of heroes who spent the past week rescuing more than 30,000 people trapped in their homes, cars and elsewhere by historic flooding in Louisiana.
As of Wednesday, the Louisiana National Guard alone had rescued 11,085 residents and 1,400 pets. Guard members also had handed out more than 32,255 MREs and more than 359,000 bottles of water, the Guard said in a news release.
Jefferson Parish first responders had rescued and evacuated 3,500 people by Thursday. The parish deployed 60 employees and 12 boats for the emergency response.
The State Police, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, other law enforcement agencies and volunteer civilians — including the “Cajun Navy” made up of fishers, hunters and boaters — also have spent countless hours getting people to safety.
Without them, the misery from this massive disaster would have been even worse. When people are stranded by water, their lives are at high risk. Many of the more than 1,800 people who lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina drowned in their homes or died in overheated attics.
So far, 13 people have died in the Louisiana Flood of 2016. If not for the efforts of these brave rescuers, the death toll almost certainly would have been higher.
Joe Spinato and five friends and employees of Ultimate Swamp Tours helped nearly 600 people stranded in homes around Baton Rouge, he said. But on Monday, they found the body of someone who didn’t survive.
“We launched a boat, and about 30 minutes later, we got a call. … ,” he said. “At that point, I started thinking, ‘Wow. I wonder how many of these people would have been in the same situation if we hadn’t been there?’”
That is unknowable, but there very well could have been more deaths without the rescue missions.
One of the most dramatic rescues came on Saturday, Aug. 13, when three men in a boat pulled a woman and her dog out of a car that was sinking in floodwaters. As captured on dramatic video by WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, the men tried to break the back window of the car to free the woman, and one of them ended up jumping into the water to get her out. He then reached underwater and found her small dog.
There have been countless other acts of kindness.
The next day, on Aug. 14, off-duty Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Deputies Lt. Trent Duplantis and Sgt. Derek Champagne went out on search and rescue missions with Ryan Dicharry, who provided his boat. As they worked their way through a flooded neighborhood, power lines hung eerily close to their heads.
They had to pull up to the eave of Kimberly and Anthony Burkett’s two-story home on Elliot Road in East Baton Rouge Parish to help the family and their three dogs slide down the roof into the boat.
LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette also set out that day by boat to try to find retired LSU play-by-play broadcaster Jim Hawthorne and his wife. The couple had stayed in their flooded neighborhood, and their family hadn’t heard from them since Saturday night.
Mr. Bonnette, his son Peyton, LSU team doctor Brent Bankston, neighbor Robert Miller and LSU football broadcast spotter Jim Nickel headed toward the Hawthorne’s house, but someone else got there first and rescued them. Mr. Bonnette and his team kept going, though, and spent several hours picking up other people and getting them to dry ground.
“We didn’t save any lives; we brought people to safety,” he said. “It warms your heart to be able to help people like that.”
Baton Rouge resident Chris Macaluso, a volunteer with the Cajun Navy, used his boat to help his neighbors escape their flooded subdivision. The floodwaters were tricky to maneuver, he said.
“There have been several situations where the current has been so strong coming down some of these streets that it’s dangerous to try to get a boat down them,” he said. The volunteers “are risking a lot to help these people, and I know people in this part of Baton Rouge and all over really appreciate it.”
It is difficult to fully express our appreciation. All of us in South Louisiana, whether or not we needed help this time, will be eternally grateful for the bravery and selflessness shown by all these rescuers.
— NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune, Aug. 21