Rob Gaudet of the Cajun Navy Joins Us from Devastated Fort Myers

29 Sep 2022

BUCK: We have Rob Gaudet with us right now on the phone. He is the founder and director of the Cajun Navy. Many of you are familiar with their amazing work. Rob is on the ground in Fort Myers, Florida, right now. Rob, what can you tell us about what you’re seeing?

GAUDET: You know, it’s so crazy. It’s sunny, the air is cool, but the trees are down. It’s flooding. It’s really… It’s kind of surreal, to be honest with you. I mean, where I’m sitting was probably under two or three feet, maybe four or five feet of water less than six hours ago, and it’s completely dry now. There’s so much damage to homes and businesses here, it’s incredible.

BUCK: How does this compare? I mean, you’ve been involved — Cajun Navy’s been involved — in numerous relief efforts at hurricanes. How does this compare what you’ve seen before?

GAUDET: You know, every one of these storms what I’ve learned over six years of doing this is every single one is different. You almost can’t compare them. The geography is different, the people are different, even the buildings are designed differently. Here you have people that are used to water. They live on the water. But not this much water. You know, driving in, we saw fences knocked down.

We saw cars pushed over in the ditch, you know, all the way down the highway coming into Fort Myers. Fort Myers has trees down everywhere. These… You know, there’s a lot of palm trees in here and I know they have special names. I just call them palm trees; that’s basically what they are. You can see they’re pretty much just destroyed. They’re not knocked over, but they are shredded, and there clearly was a lot of wind through here last night.

CLAY: So, Rob, first of all, thanks for everything that you and your group are doing to help people. What kind of on-the-ground response are you guys seeing in the Fort Myers area where the epicenter of this storm seems to a large degree have been focused? How many people are out and about? How much rescuing is going on? How does the overall environment surrounding both first responders, fire departments, and certainly military, I would imagine, and also police, what kind of on-the-ground force are you seeing?

GAUDET: Sure. We have a lot of rescues still going on. As people get connection if they’re stranded or have been unable to leave where they are, they’re reaching out to us. We have crews down on Sanibel Island. The bridge to the island itself is damaged, but we can take boats across to get there. So that’s what we’re doing. We have volunteers coming in that are just arriving that are headed down there actually sitting next to me right now that are going to work with our team to do search-and-rescue.

Commander Jay Carter, actually, I was just on the phone with him before we left, he was hopping on a boat to go out and do some more SAR. We’ve done at this point over 40 rescues within our organization. Our team, we basically landed in Tampa late yesterday. Actually earlier yesterday my team, these guys left Tampa about 3 a.m. once the winds died down enough down here in the Fort Myers area and got into here, and they’ve been going all night. They haven’t slept, and they’re still going.

CLAY: Rob, we appreciate all the work you’re doing. How was the communication infrastructure right now? Are cell phones working around where you are? How is the radio, television, power sort of scenario? And how are people reaching out? And what would you tell someone who might be listening on a car radio or might be listening to us right now on a battery-powered radio, for instance? How can they get help?

GAUDET: Well, if you need help, definitely, you know, reach out to your local first responders, your local officials are always what we say, you know, you should have those numbers handy and anybody that stays behind knows to do that. If you need to reach us you can do it by going to our website, CrowdRelief.net and complete our intake form. We had over 350 requests this morning when we got in. A lot of those are duplicates from other organizations, but a lot were not. You know, the cell coverage is…

I’m on the phone with you sitting here at Fort Myers, but I’m afraid if I move I could lose you. I’m AT&T. I also have a Verizon phone that was barely working. There’s no data. I would also say there’s very little fuel due… Here’s what I would recommend to anybody who’s listening and thinking about coming back. Let me tell you why don’t come back. Fuel. Gas stations are going to be low or empty because of the evacuations that happened. It’s gonna be a day or two or maybe even longer before they refill those pumps.

And if you come down here and run out of gas, you’re gonna be taking resources from people who need to be helping the community to get back on their feet. So please do not come back if you’re safe. Just give it a few days until the authorities say it’s safe to. Don’t go back to any of these areas. Your home is not gonna go anywhere. It is what it is right now. Let the first responders and rescuers — and organizations like ours, nonprofits — come in and begin to set up so we can provide services, to provide stability within these communities.

That’s what we’re doing, I’m doing that today. We’re looking for where we can set up what we call safe camp. We can see this on our website, GoCajunNavy.org. It’s a new concept where we provide almost like a M*A*S*H type unit that we set up with tents and equipment, we have trailers, 18-wheelers that we bring in and we become community services while the community is distressed. There’s no power. There’s no water. We offer everything you need from medical care to water from one place.

BUCK: Rob Gaudet of the Cajun Navy, founder and director of Cajun Navy, right now. Rob, for people who just are… We’ve got 400-plus stations all over the country. People are very focused in on what’s going on in Florida right now. If they want to help within if they want to donate, where should they go?

GAUDET: To donate go to Give.GoCajunNavy.org. GoCajunNavy.org, is where you can donate, if you want to help, volunteer. I mean, come on down. We’re gonna need a lot of hands. It’s… I’ll be honest. It’s a nice drive, it’s a long drive, but it’s worth it. We need hands. This is a time where there’s just a lot of hands. The best thing we can do is have a lot of volunteers, financial donations, and then donations to support the community where, you know, Walmarts are gonna be closed.

Where you gonna get diapers? Where you gonna get, you know, nonperishable foods, water? So we provide those services from safe camp. And we accept those things at safe camp, and we already have an army of people across the country doing distribution drives that are gonna start heading this way. And then we need volunteers to hand them out in a car line to survivors. We load up trunks and we load up back seats with stuff and send them on their way.

CLAY: Rob, one more time for people out there listening: How can they help your work? Rob Gaudet with the Cajun Navy, how can they help all the people who are affected in Florida right now?

GAUDET: Look. We are a nonprofit. We’re a 501(c)(3). Every dollar you donate goes to help people we’re helping. And you can give at Give.GoCajunNavy.org. That’s our donation website, and we’re gonna… You know, we do rescue, but we actually stay for a long time. If you look at our Facebook page, look for the Cajun Navy Facebook page. We have a kaleidoscope and a fleur-de-lis logo. There’s several Cajun Navies. Ours has the kaleidoscope and the fleur-de-lis logo. You’ll see we stay for extended periods of time. After Hurricane Ida, for instance, that happened about a year ago, we were in Houma for nine months helping after the disaster for an extended time.

BUCK: We’ll put this up at ClayAndBuck.com. We’ll link to it at our show website, Rob Gaudet of the Cajun Navy. Rob, thank you so much for being with us.

GAUDET: Man, I appreciate you having us on. Thank you.

CLAY: They’re doing a lot of tremendous work. ClayandBuck.com, we will have the link up there if you are interested in helping out Rob and his crew as they help take care of so many people who are gonna need a vast amount of help in the days and weeks and months ahead as the recovery for Hurricane Ian goes on, particularly in that Fort Myers area.



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