"Cajun Navy" to be honored

September 22, 2006
By Theresa Schmidt

They've been called the "Cajun Navy"--  A group of Southwest Louisiana civilians who helped rescue people in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. They'll be recognized at festivities Monday at the Super Dome Monday.

Hurricane Katrina brought on the desperate situation-- the levies in New Orleans had failed and people everywhere were stranded. Governor Kathleen Blanco called on civilian volunteers she knew. Lake Charles business woman Sara Roberts was one of them. "The governor was very desperate and called upon people that she knew who had the resources. To those that much is given much is expected."

The term "Cajun Navy" was coined by Doug Brinkley doing research for his book the great deluge. In Lake Charles a group quickly mobilized and headed to the disaster area to help rescue people. "We had probably 23 vessels and we had I'd say probably close to 30 people." Roberts credits her friend, contractor Ronny Lovett with making it happen. "I called Ronny immediately and he said, 'Give me a couple of hours. I'm going to Sam's and I'm getting the supplies we need and we'll have our convoy. And we convoyed to New Orleans. He is really the hero."

They saw death and human suffering beyond their imaginations. The experience pushed everyone to the limit physically, mentally and emotionally. Yet Roberts says it was gratifying beyond words. "To me, going in and pulling people out of the water was just the right thing to do. It was our responsibility as citizens, Louisianans."

There were two elderly sisters they helped reuinite. Says Sara, "Each one thought the other had died in the storm. And so that reunion was a sweet reunion and we all celebrated." And victims who despite their suffering kept their sense of humor. Sara tells about one of the men as he rescued an elderly woman.  "He picked up this one lady and she said, 'this is like on my honeymoon.'"

Ironically,  though Sara and group resisted publicity,  a news photographer snapped this picture of her rescuing two children. The picture has been published extensively and has for many come to symbolize courage and compassion in the face of human tragedy. Monday we'll have more on that photo of Sara and how it's been seen around the world.