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A group of civilians have stepped in to supplement the efforts of federal, state, and local agencies performing water rescues for the stranded victims of Hurricane Harvey. The civilian groups, which go by names such as the “Texas Navy” and “Cajun Navy,” use their own airboats, fishing boats, and even canoes, to help their stranded neighbors reach warm and dry shelters throughout the Houston area.


Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the county’s leading political official, told reporters at a press conference that government resources at all levels had reached their capacity. He said that Harris County residents should help their neighbors who had become stranded during the record rainfall. As of this writing, the combined efforts of government and civilian groups have resulted in more than 2,000 water rescues.


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Rey Ortega, an oilfield tool salesman and avid fisherman, brought his boat from nearby Victoria to help those stranded in their homes.

“I’ve been able to rescue 10 to 15 people at a time. Yesterday was a very good day. We rescued 53 people into the night,” Ortega told National Public Radio.

The all-volunteer, all-civilian Cajun Coast Search and Rescue group arrived in Houston on Sunday. The group received a list of addresses from local officials and sought out stranded homeowners in need of transport to safer areas. The group deployed six boats, five trained search dogs, and a high-profile vehicle to help bring residents out of flooded areas. The group rescued 35 people on Sunday and announced that they would stay as long as they were needed.


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These volunteers all appear to share the spirit of helping their neighbors in times of desperate need. Toney Wade, leader of Cajun Coast Search and Rescue, told the Washington Post, “Once we saw how much rain was falling in Texas, we didn’t think twice: Even if we hadn’t been asked to come by local officials, we were going anyway. We live for it.”

Volunteers step in as rescuers for Hurricane Harvey victims AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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