ACY, Louisiana — Matthew Robert and Todd Daigle had seen a lot in five days of rescuing people from floodwaters near Baton Rouge. Then came Wednesday, when they encountered something new: a pack of cowboys and about 50 head of cattle.
It started when the two men went in together last month on a flat-bottomed frogging boat. That’s not a typo. This is southern Louisiana, where frog legs are a common delicacy.
They’d just finished outfitting it Friday, when the storm began rolling in. Robert is from Darrow, Daigle from Prairieville, and they both are fortunate to live on high ground. That didn’t mean they were immune to the historic flooding that has swamped the region, damaging more than 40,000 homes.
“It’s hard to sit and watch all that happen to your neighbors and your friends and not do something about it,” Daigle, 44, said.
Like so many other boats in the area, theirs became a rescue vessel.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” added Robert, 39. “We knew it was going to be bad, but I think the severity of it caught some people off guard.”
Floodwaters and a floating casket
They started Saturday in Livingston Parish and responded to a call for assistance at a funeral home. There, they carried 35 individuals to higher ground. One was a diabetic with no insulin. Another was on oxygen support. Several were in wheelchairs.
As the rain continued to fall, pushing the Amite River well over its banks (it crested at almost 4 feet, breaking a record set in 1983), the calls kept coming. At one point, they were asked to rescue horses trapped in a barn with 6 feet of water.
As the floodwater moved south, so did they. In St. Amant, a school, church and dozens of homes and businesses sat in 3 or 4 feet of water. Lines on the structures showed the water had been higher at some point.
Shortly after passing a floating casket tied to a mailbox, they came to a cemetery, its headstones partially submerged.
A couple of miles into Acy, Daigle’s full-size truck could travel no farther. Robert launched the boat from a driveway into the thigh-high water of some unlucky soul’s front yard.
Robert traversed the swollen culverts along Louisiana 937, then the expansive yards hosting ruined homes and monstrous boughs of live oaks.
A watery roundup
Across a lake that once served as a grazing pasture, they found eight cowboys in ball caps and rubber boots on horseback.
A herd of cattle, including several calves, had been stranded by the floodwaters. The spooked cows had trotted down a side road, away from the trailers set up on a bayou bridge about a mile down 937.
Robert cut them off in the boat, turning them around and getting them back on track down 937. Clearly agitated, the cattle mooed and looked curiously at the olive frog boat, its engine revving.
Soon, other boats and cowboys joined the effort. Some of the cowboys lagged behind with the straggler calves, mushing them along.
With cowboys on horseback behind them and boats on either side, the cattle slogged through the water inundating 937. The floodwater just covered their hooves on the highway, but on either side of the road it came half way up homes’ and barns’ doors. Cars, tractors and 4-wheelers were various degrees of submerged.
Finally, they reached the bridge where the cowboys had set up fencing to rustle them into the open trailer doors. The men yelled, “Yah! Yah!” and slapped the cows’ rumps.
One calf collapsed from exhaustion, while another had trotted away, off the not-so-beaten path. They, too, were secured and put on trailers.
When it was done, the thankful cowboys handed out Bud Lights and styrofoam boxes of red beans and rice among the helpers.
As Robert and Daigle put their boat back on the trailer, Robert apologized to a CNN reporter, saying he’d wished there’d been some residents to rescue in Acy.
But those cattle represent the farmers’ livelihood, he said, rattling off the estimated prices for a steer and a calf.
“I’d say we rescued about $100,000 of cattle out there,” he said. “That’s something.”