Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: Baton Rouge flood rescuers

Flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, began on August, 12, 2016. By August 15, 2016, more than 10 rivers had reached moderate, major or record flood stage, leading to one of the worst floods in the city’s history. The Coast Guard sent several air and boat crews to assist the flood victims. This is only two of their stories, along with the people they assisted.

An aviation maintenance technician from Air Station New Orleans, scours flooded areas of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for people in distress Aug. 15, 2016. To date, Coast Guard crews have rescued more than 195 people, assisted more than 2,902 people in distress and rescued 26 pets. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake

An aviation maintenance technician from Air Station New Orleans, scours flooded areas of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for people in distress Aug. 15, 2016. To date, Coast Guard crews have rescued more than 195 people, assisted more than 2,902 people in distress and rescued 26 pets. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Connie Terrell

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew arrives to rescue Stephany Jones and he family. Photo courtesy of Stephany Jones.

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew arrives to rescue Stephany Jones and he family. Photo courtesy of Stephany Jones.

“It was all a blur,” Stephany Jones wrote on social media after her rescue. “He had emerald green eyes, about 6-foot 3 [inches], thin, dressed in a Coast Guard orange water suit. He put my daughter and the dogs in the basket. As it started to rise to the helicopter, he looked over at me and saw the fear in my eyes. He grabbed my hands and said ‘We got her – she is safe.’”

The man, whose’s name she didn’t know at the time, was Coast Guard rescue swimmer, Chief Petty Officer Phillip Ornot, stationed at Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans.

“Are you ready for the best ride of your life,” he asked Jones.

After a quick nod, he whisked her into the helicopter where her dogs and daughter, 23-year-old Bonnie Bynum, awaited before being taken away from the floodwaters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Scattered thunderstorms that began on Aug. 9, 2016, would eventually turn into torrential downpours and lead to one of the worst floods Baton Rouge had seen, leaving 13 dead and thousands of others in need of rescue.

“I don’t think anyone expected it to be flooded that bad,” said Ornot, who celebrates his 18th anniversary of Coast Guard service at the end of August. “It was shocking.”

Flooded areas of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are shown Aug. 15, 2016. To date, Coast Guard crews have rescued more than 195 people, assisted more than 2,902 people in distress and rescued 26 pets. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake

Flooded areas of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are shown Aug. 15, 2016. To date, Coast Guard crews have rescued more than 195 people, assisted more than 2,902 people in distress and rescued 26 pets. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake

The long day of rescues began for Ornot and his crew when the search and rescue alarm sounded at 6:15 a.m.

After a slight delay due to weather, they were conducting one rescue after the next. Rescuing people from rooftops and other flooded areas, re-fueling, offloading flood victims, then off to rescue more. This pattern would continue until around 10 p.m.

During one rescue he saw a young man outside a home with water to his waist waving the Coast Guard crew down. His mother and grandmother were immobile and trapped in the house.

The water came to Ornot’s waist, but because the women were sitting and couldn’t move, the water was already up to their necks.

“Most of the rescues involved elderly people, young kids or babies,” said Ornot, who also performed rescues during Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago.

Ornot said the parents would hand their kids up to him, trying to ensure they were safe.

Floodwaters trapped Stephany Jones and her family on the porch as waters rushed below her mobile home. Photo courtesy of Stephany Jones.

Floodwaters trapped Stephany Jones and her family on the porch as waters rushed below her mobile home. Photo courtesy of Stephany Jones.

The long day was nearly over for Ornot and his crew, though there were still several people counting on them.

“I was on the roof of a mobile home two doors down from where Stephany was,” Ornot said. “There were nine people in the home.”

After the helicopter left with the first five people he rescued, Ornot noticed Jones and her daughter.

“We didn’t have a way to get onto our roof,” Jones said. “The water was rushing under my trailer.”

The helicopter returned to Ornot for the last four people from the rooftop he was on and then departed to drop them off.

Once the helicopter dropped them off, there were only about 11 to 13 minutes left to rescue Jones and her family who were awaiting rescue on their porch.

Stephany Jones and her daughter, Bonnie, were rescued by the Coast Guard during the Baton Rouge flooding. Photo courtesy of Stephany Jones.

Stephany Jones and her daughter, Bonnie, were rescued by the Coast Guard during the Baton Rouge flooding. Photo courtesy of Stephany Jones.

The water was now up to their necks, knocking them off their feet.

After Ornot got Jones’ daughter and the dogs into a rescue basket and into the helicopter, he knew he wouldn’t have enough time to have the basket sent back down for her. He quickly threw a sling around her, hooked into the cable and up they both went into the safety of the helicopter.

“Because of him I get to celebrate weddings, births of grandchildren, great grandchildren,” Jones said.

After loading 19 people into his Coast Guard helicopter, 14 more into an Army helicopter and countless others into good Samaritan boats, Ornot’s day was done.

“It was a crew effort,” Ornot said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Coast Guard crews didn’t just help flood victims out of helicopters – some crews had boats.

Coast Guard members head into the water with their flat-bottom boats to assist locals during the flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Sunday. The Coast Guard sent water and air assets to assist the victims in the Baton Rouge area. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class brandon Giles

Coast Guard members head into the water with their flat-bottom boats to assist locals during the flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Sunday. The Coast Guard sent water and air assets to assist the victims in the Baton Rouge area. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class brandon Giles

Baton Rouge resident David Dawson received a text from his daughter on Sunday asking him to check on her grandfather, his ex father-in-law. He hadn’t been heard from since 4 a.m., and she suspected his neighborhood was one that was hit hard.

Dawson loaded up his small, inflatable motorized boat into his truck and headed toward the 70-year-old grandfather’s house.

Dawson finally ran into a Coast Guard crew from Coast Guard Enforcement Division Lower Mississippi River.

He asked petty officers Travis Colson and Carl Kraynak, both members of the enforcement division at Coast Guard Sector Lower Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee, if they had any boats out that could help.

Petty Officers Travis Colson and Carl Kraynak help David Dawson track down a missing family member. Photo courtesy of David Dawson.

Petty Officers Travis Colson and Carl Kraynak help David Dawson track down a missing family member. Photo courtesy of David Dawson.

They didn’t, but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to help.

Dawson said the Coast Guardsmen took off with him by foot and by boat to find the missing grandfather, all the while doing what he called side missions.

“We saw a car with its brake lights on so they’d go and check to ensure no one was in it,” Dawson said.

Finally Dawson got a text saying the grandfather was safe at a neighbor’s house and couldn’t get a call out because his phone had died.

“I can tell all they cared about was helping me find him,” Dawson said. “They wouldn’t stop until we either found him or heard from him.”

Dawson wanted to thank the men who helped him by making them dinner the following night, however when he called the next day, they have moved farther south, following the flooding to find others who needed help.

“We saw one house that had a paper taped to the window that said ‘help, 2 people inside,’” Colson said. Thankfully they had already escaped.

Colson and his fellow crewmembers are trained to deploy to flooding at a moment’s notice, however, he said this was his first time actually getting to help during a flood response.

Floodwaters reach to the roofs of houses in some areas. This was a scene during David Dawson's journey to track down a missing family member. Photo courtesy of David Dawson.

Floodwaters reach to the roofs of houses in some areas. This was a scene during David Dawson’s journey to track down a missing family member. Photo courtesy of David Dawson.

“It’s probably one of the most devastating things I’ve ever seen,” said Colson, who has been in the Coast Guard for four years. “I’m glad I was able to go down there to help.”

One thing really struck a chord with Colson – the people.

“It wasn’t just the people pulling other people out, it was helping people with shelter and hospitality,” he said.

He spent the night at the American Legion after a long day. He said two women were cooking for the rescuers and ensuring they had snacks. After talking with them Colson learned they both lost everything they had in the flood, yet they were helping others.

“It was probably the most humbling, but neatest experiences I’ve had in the Coast Guard,” said Colson.

During the flood response multiple Coast Guard crews saved 245 people, 71 pets and assisted more than 3,000 people.

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