Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Staying Afloat in Louisiana: Have Pirogue, Will Rescue

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Staying Afloat in Louisiana: Have Pirogue, Will Rescue

Article excerpt

New Orleans banker Guy Williams wears two hats, literally.

In his "day job" he is president of Gulf Coast Bank & Trust, a $600 million-assets lender that caters to a mixed blue-collar, small-business customer group.

But Williams is also a deputy sheriff for St. Bernard Parish, on the outskirts of New Orleans proper. As a volunteer auxiliary policeman, he's often pitched in to help the regular force. But the aftermath of Katrina found the veteran banker guiding his shallow-draft pirogue through flooded sections of New Orleans Parish, one of many law-enforcement officers helping to rescue the stranded.

William's job was to seek out people needing rescue for pickup by larger boats. The pirogue, traditional watercraft of the bayous, is a small canoe-like boat that requires so little water to float that it can get into spots other craft can't.

"You could get in much closer to the rooftops, which was helpful because the old people could not be heard," says Williams. Once he located people, he'd let the rescue crews know where to find them. Lung power was the best way to do that.

"Cell phones were useless," says Williams, "and the emergency radios were all set for different frequencies."

Williams says the four days he did this were long and the nights were for sleeping, since navigation was impossible in the dark.

The experience, says Williams, carried a hint of deja vu for him. Back in 1965, when Hurricane Betsy flooded the city, he and his father helped in rescue efforts. "At that time, the two of us were doing it in a power boat," he remembers. As the search for evacuees came to a close, Williams was able to put on his other hat, as bank president. Of the nine branches Gulf Coast has in the New Orleans area, four were closed by flooding from Katrina, and three, in hard-hit St. Bernard Parish, were kept closed by reflooding from Hurricane Rita. …

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