Volunteer flood rescue operator: 'I had to do it'

Source: Nichole Gautreau
Source: Nichole Gautreau
Nichole Gautreau (Source: WAFB)
Nichole Gautreau (Source: WAFB)
Nichole Gautreau (Source: WAFB)
Nichole Gautreau (Source: WAFB)

PRAIRIEVILLE, LA (WAFB) - For the past four days, a Prairieville woman has been working to save lives from her computer. "I wake up at 7 a.m. in the morning. You can't sleep knowing people need to be rescued. You want to stay up," said Nichole Gautreau.

Gautreau was born in Baton Rouge, raised in Houston, and is one of thousands helping coordinate rescue efforts for flood victims in portions of Texas and Louisiana from their homes. "I needed to step in and do something. Going through what we went through last year, you feel helpless," she said.

Monday evening, Gautreau stated in a Facebook post if anyone in the Houston area needed flood relief, to send names and addresses her way. In turn, she relayed that information to volunteer rescue boaters she previously contacted through Facebook. "He said, 'I got a boat. Tell me where you need me to go.'"

Gautreau's post was shared. She says her first cry for help was one of the most powerful. It involved three adults and three kids trapped on a roof. She immediately called the anonymous boater. "He headed right over there and saved them and went to a couple more calls for me," said Gautreau.

According to her notes, not only did she help save that family of six, but also help to save an elderly woman, an entire apartment complex, a nursing home, and almost 200 other people. "I had to do it. There's was no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I might've hung up and cried, but I wasn't going to let them hear the fear or the sadness at all."

Gautreau says the power of social media is undeniable. It helped save lives as she worked with rescuers not affiliated with any group, just your average Joe with a boat.

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"I'm gathering supplies and gathering water, but this right here, someone has to do it. People can share things all they want, but if it's not getting to the right people, it's not working," said Gautreau.

She says it's an experience that brought her a rollercoaster of emotions. "I've been having nightmares the last three nights of water and boats. Just knowing if people are alive or not. I've cried a lot this week, but really they've all mostly been tears of joy," she said.

But Gautreau recalls one experience she says she wouldn't trade for anything. "Americans saving Americans, no matter what our occupations are. Whether we're police officers or apartment people, whether we're black or white. No matter what, we're saving people. That's all people need to worry about and do."

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