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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Providing smoother sailing for the 'Cajun Navy' causing skepticism

Providing smoother sailing for the 'Cajun Navy' causing skepticism

Volunteers say it’s overkill

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana legislator says he's looking for ways to provide smoother sailing for volunteer boaters — known collectively as the "Cajun Navy" — who turned out to help with water rescues during the recent floods. But so far the ideas being floated have met with skepticism and even anger.

Volunteers who rescued people stranded in Louisiana's high water last week sometimes complained they were turned away by authorities in some areas.

In a recent radio interview, Republican state Sen. Jonathan Perry suggested legislation that would let boaters waive liability for the government if volunteers were to get lost or hurt. He said the legislation could also call for a rescue certification course for volunteers.

Perry insisted he's trying to clear hurdles for the volunteers. He said in a new Facebook video that he has received complaints, and even insults against him and his family, from people who don't understand his proposal.

"It is to basically remove any restrictions," said the lawmaker from Kaplan in the flooded area. "And allow people to get to our citizens quicker."

Reached by telephone Wednesday, private-citizen rescuers were skeptical of the need for legislation.

Micah Shaw of Denham Springs, was part of a group that dispatched to flooded areas based on social media posts about people needing rescue. He said he understood the reasoning behind Perry's proposals. "I think it's just kind of overkill," he said.

Shaw said he doesn't think there would be much opposition to the waiver of liability. But if the legislation were to require a course for certification, few people would bother. "People aren't going to take time off work to get certified," he said.

Jared Serigne, a volunteer from St. Bernard Parish, said he and other experienced boaters are looking at perhaps taking part in volunteer courses to learn more about rescue techniques, but he doesn't believe they should be required. Last week he helped organize volunteer efforts involving roughly 70 experienced boaters who helped hundreds of people from flooded communities.

In his Aug. 17 interview with KPEL radio, Perry said such a course might involve a fee. In his Facebook video posted Tuesday night, he said he would eliminate any costs. But he still believes some kind of legislation is needed to waive government liability and make sure law enforcement agencies are legally able to grant rescuers access to certain areas.

More than 30,000 people were rescued by authorities or volunteers when the unexpected flooding hit. The rescues provided high video-recorded drama at times — such as the rescue captured on video that showed two men on a boat pull a woman from a car almost fully underwater. One of them, boat owner David Phung, jumped into the water and resurfaced later with the woman's small dog.


Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte and Michael Kunzelman in Baton Rouge contributed to this report.

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