Robert Beauregard held the position of Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Deputy in Alexandria, Louisiana, for twenty-eight years at the time of this interview. Beauregard recounts his police training for natural disasters, including hurricanes and tropical storms. During Hurricane Katrina, as an interagency task force, Beauregard’s sheriff’s office traveled north of New Orleans to help anyone affected by significant flooding in the area.
While the primary job entailed search and rescue, Katrina also brought about many looters and gun violence, those taking advantage of the distress. After witnessing such a horrible event, Beauregard talks about how law enforcement agencies began recommending therapy for such events. Although Katrina prepared Beauregard for future storms, it made him more nervous when news began to break regarding Hurricane Harvey. Since Beauregard had family in Houston, his personal worry motivated him and his brother to take a lifted truck, with a boat attached, to rescue his daughter and brother-in-law in Meyerland. Beauregard recalls the flooded highways and how he compared Harvey to Katrina – with Harvey, there was less flooding and looting and more community support. Beauregard acknowledges Houston Strong in his memory of Houstonians support and help for one another during Harvey. After rescuing his daughter and brother-in-law, Beauregard had an easier time traveling from Houston back to Louisiana. At the end of his interview, Beauregard discusses how cities and organizations can learn from events like Harvey and Katrina and prepare for future events.
Interviewee: Robert Beauregard
Interview Location: Houston, Texas
Interviewer: Lindsay Beauregard
INTERVIEWER: My name is Lindsay Beauregard. Today I am interviewing Robert Gatlin Beauregard. We are in Houston, Texas, and we’re going to be talking about his experience with major storms.
LB: Can you please state your full name?
RB: Robert Gatlin Beauregard.
LB: Can you tell us when and where you were born, Mr. Beauregard?
RB: I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana on July 2, 1969.
LB: And have you always lived in Louisiana or Lafayette?
RB: No, as a young child, I lived in Texas and Oklahoma and moved back to Louisiana at the age of about 10.
LB: Can you tell me about your early life and where you went to school?
RB: Went to school at a small country school, Poland Junior High School from elementary through junior high. It was a farming community just south of Alexandria, Louisiana — just about center part of the state. And I went to high school in [0:01:00] Lecompte, Louisiana at Rapides High School.
LB: And can you tell us what your occupation is, Mr. Beauregard?
RB: At the age of 21, I became a Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Deputy out of Alexandria, Louisiana.
LB: And how long have you worked here?
RB: I’ve been there for 28 years.
LB: Did you have an experience with a major flood or storm as a child? And if so, what was that like for you?
RB: Not many major storms. When we lived in Oklahoma, there were several tornado scares. It’s a big tornado country, but as far as damage or devastation, no, I didn’t have a whole lot as a young child.
LB: And does that area that you live in currently flood?
RB: Not currently.
LB: Does your current job deal with disaster prep or relief from natural disasters? And if so, how? Can you give us some examples?
RB: It does. And a lot of this came from, you know, training after Katrina. We noticed that there was a lot of gaps in the areas [0:02:00] of interagency cooperation. So it was instilled in all police departments to start training in that area so that we could be better able to communication amongst each other when there was a natural disaster.
LB: And how many times would you say in your career that you’ve been called to help with a major storm or a natural disaster? And do you remember which storms they were?
RB: There was — well, Katrina was the first. And shortly following that was the storm that hit Lake Charles and Cameron Parish. I’m drawing a blank on the name of that storm right now. And then, most recently, we had the storm here in Houston.
LB: And what was your experience with Hurricane Katrina? What are some things that you saw going on down there? How soon did you go down there when the storm hit?
RB: Our sheriff’s office is part of an interagency task force that responds to major events such as this. So we were called upon the following day [0:03:00] the storm actually hit. We gathered up as many troops as we can. I think we initially went down with about 25 deputies. And we staged in the town of Gonzales, Louisiana, which was just north of New Orleans. And the devastation didn’t get bad until we were a little bit south of Gonzales. And unlike most storms, Katrina — the big thing with it was the water. There was wind damage as you see in most hurricanes, but the fact that New Orleans lives in a bowl — New Orleans is — you know, there are places in New Orleans that are nine feet below sea level. And it’s become habitable over the years due to the levee systems. And the fear all along was if the levees ever failed, there was nowhere for the water to go but in. And that’s what we saw when we got down there — major flooding.
LB: And how were the people in that area? Did you [0:04:00] see any crime? What was your main mission to go down there? Was it search and rescue? Was it helping control the crime levels that they saw during the storm?
RB: Initially, it was the crime that was being committed. There was a lot of looting going on. There was — there was a lot of gun violence going on. Unfortunately, the police in New Orleans were — you had some dedicated and staying on the job. You had others that were concerned about their families and got out of the area. So it kind of — it left the place open to crime. And it was — it was rampant. When we first got down into New Orleans proper, close to the French Quarter and the Superdome and all that, there was — any direction you wanted to look, you could see looting going on.
LB: What were some of the major crimes that you saw committed?
RB: Most of it was theft. There were — you know, nothing that I visibly saw [0:05:00] as far as homicides or such, but the unfortunate thing about it was there was — we were not prepared. The State of Louisiana was not prepared. And I don’t know if anyone in the country would have been prepared at the time for the devastation of people being trapped in water like that. And there was some death that we saw — some people that died due to drowning. There was some people that we saw that were — that, you know, appear to have been victims of homicides that were left there. So it was — it was — it was — it was an eyeopener.
LB: And how do you prepare yourself to deal with those sorts of things?
RB: You don’t. And law enforcement, you’re trained to tackle the task at hand. You try to compartmentalize those images and stuff. And you push through and push forward to complete your mission. And in this case, it was to help people [0:06:00] and try to make sure — we could make sure that everyone that we could save or help get food or help get out of the water. That was our goal.
LB: And did the sheriff’s office back in Louisiana provide any sort of relief or any therapists to try to help the officers get through some of the things that they saw or encourage it?
RB: At the time, that wasn’t a big — you know, it wasn’t a big push in law enforcement for that. We’ve since realized, with PTSD and everything else, that it’s critical that we talk about these things and get them out. Because anyone in law enforcement that’s been there for any period of time realizes that they have things that affect them and bother them. And that’s what PTSD is. You just — you know, you don’t realize at the time how it’s going to affect you down the road. It’s a cumulative effect that works on you. So since then [0:07:00], to answer your question, yeah, the sheriff’s office and, you know, and all law enforcement agencies have taken notice of that. And they do provide the support now.
LB: So with your prior Katrina experience, how did you feel initially when you saw on the news that Hurricane Harvey was coming in around the Texas/Louisiana area?
RB: Hurricane Harvey had an added element to it. I had a daughter that was in the middle of it. And knowing what I saw in Katrina, it made me very, very nervous. Now, after dealing with it and seeing it, there was two different complete storms. With Harvey, the wind and the rain came. And then the water was gone within a couple days. With Katrina, it was a whole different scenario, because there was nowhere for the water to go. Water had to be pumped out, but to say that I was nervous, having [0:08:00] you here, was just — it was an understatement.
LB: Other than your daughter, are there any other ties that you have to the Houston area? Any other relatives or family?
RB: I do. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law live here with my niece and nephew. And we’re at their house right now as a matter of fact. They were — they were devastated by the flood. They had over four feet of water inside their house. And it was — it was very sad.
LB: And can you tell me what area of Houston they live in?
RB: They live right outside of Meyerland.
LB: Okay. So why did you initially decide to come to Houston during Hurricane Harvey? And how soon did it take for you to decide to come?
RB: The day the storm hit and we realized how bad it was — and the storm sat over the top of Houston. And the rain was relentless [0:09:00]. So we made a decision, you know, as the storm was going on to come this direction. We had my daughter, Lindsay, here and my brother-in-law stayed behind. And we were worried sick about them looking at the amount of water that was being dropped.
LB: What preparations did you take before heading to Houston? What was your mode of transportation?
RB: My brother has a four-wheel drive that has a small lift kit on it. For those that don’t know, it’s not a jacked up big truck, but it sits a little higher than others. And we hooked my boat on the back of it just in case that we got close and couldn’t get all the way in here. We’d have my boat to finish the trip.
LB: And so how were the road conditions from Alexandria to Houston? And did they have a lot of the roads closed off?
RB: When we got into Texas, we started having some issues. I guess about 60 miles in, there was some [0:10:00] minor road flooding. It wasn’t anything that we couldn’t make it through. As we got close to Houston — you know, on the outer skirt — I can’t remember the big loop — the one furthest out of Houston. But then things started getting pretty bad. There were three, four foot of water over some of the main thoroughfares. There was a lot of current. There was a couple of times that the current was strong enough to push our truck and boat to the side. You know, there was police officers set up at the dangerous areas, slowing people down. And they were keeping everybody pretty much out with the exception of law enforcement. And I have to commend them. They were prepared and did a very good job.
LB: How did you manage to navigate? I know certain roads were closed off. Do you think it was easy or difficult to get through those areas?
RB: It was very difficult. We — you know, as we would go one direction thinking that we were [0:11:00] going to be able to get down to where y’all were, we’d run into a roadblock. And ultimately, in the end, what we ended up doing — I think I had my Find My iPhone app on my phone. So my wife and sister-in-law who were back at my house in Louisiana were able to track where we were. And Christy, my sister-in-law, being from here, was able to kind of get on a map and guide us through what roads could possibly be open. And that’s how we were able to get into Houston proper.
LB: So your main mission coming to Houston was you were here to rescue your daughter and —
RB: My brother-in-law.
LB: And so what was your initial reaction when you started entering the greater Houston region and saw the floodwaters?
RB: A lot of thoughts came back to Katrina. I noticed that — number one, the water, you know, wasn’t as high as it was in some areas in Katrina. But I didn’t see the looting [0:12:00]. I didn’t see — I didn’t see the public panicking that we saw in Katrina. And having — being able to reflect back on it, you can look at it in two different ways. Number one, you can look at the perception of the person that’s stuck in the storm — what they perceive to be danger. You can look at community and community helping each other out. You can look at learning from past experiences with Katrina, what all went wrong. It’s obvious that years later people have learned from that.
And after it was all said done, yes, it was devastating here to the flood. But what was so impressive was the help. Everybody was helpful. Neighbor was helping neighbor. Fast forwarding to the following week after the storm, we came over here to help my brother-in-law and sister-in-law [0:13:00] clean out the house. The sheetrock had to come out — the insulation. And what moved me so much was there was a constant line of strangers — people who lived here showing up with wheelbarrows, showing up with the shovels to help. They didn’t ask. They just were here to help. And people that, you know, they’ve never seen again and probably will never see again — but the spirit of community was unsurpassed.
LB: And can you tell me in a few sentences what Houston Strong means to you? Are you familiar with that saying since the storm?
RB: I am. And like I just explained, it was just a truly moving experience for me. Coming from my background, the two hurricanes that I worked and seeing how Houston came together and helped out their fellow — their neighbor [0:14:00], it was just truly, truly moving.
LB: Were you worried that there was a chance that the looting and all the crime that happened in Katrina could happen in Houston? Was that your main push?
RB: That was — yes, that was one of my biggest concerns. I’ll never forget this. When I was on my way here leaving the house, that was — that was on my mind, because I saw it and witnessed it in Katrina. And I called — I called my first cousin’s husband, Dale Strickland, and told Dale what my concerns was. They live on the outskirts of Houston. And we were keeping tabs on them to make sure they were okay. And I told him — I said, “Well, I’m worried about my daughter because of what I saw in Katrina.” And he said, “Robert, I want to stop you right there.” And I said, “What is it, Dale?” And he said, “This is Texas. This is not New Orleans. That’s not going to happen here.” And he was right, too.
LB: Were you ever concerned that you wouldn’t be able [0:15:00] to make it to your family members because of the waters?
RB: There was concern, but concern is the least, you know, of our issues. You’re getting the mission done. You get the job done, especially when it concerns family.
LB: Can you describe the floodwaters around the Meyerland area? I know that area was really affected.
RB: The water had come up very fast. And it also receded very fast. By the time we made it to the [unclear, 0:15:31] residence, the streets were still full of water. There was probably a foot of water, but compared to what it was just hours before — when we were here — on our way here — when we were about two hours out, there was still three foot of water inside their house. So the water did recede very fast.
LB: When you finally reached them, how did you feel?
RB: Relieved — felt very blessed and relieved that we were able [0:16:00] to get to them.
LB: And can you describe your drive home? Was it easier getting out of the city? Was it more difficult getting out of the city than coming in?
RB: It was — it was — it was easier getting out. Like I said, the waters had receded somewhat. So it made a lot of the passages that we weren’t able to use on the way in — they were passable. We could get through them on the way out. So it was easier.
LB: Before, during, and after your rescue mission, did you feel any anxiety, any stress?
RB: You always feel stress. Whether it’s a close loved one, your daughter, or whether it’s you’re going in to, you know, help a stranger out, you’re always going to feel that.
LB: And that’s true of your job, correct?
RB: Yes, that’s something you learn to live with and something that you thrive on, because it helps push you through.
LB: So when you got back home, how were you able to relieve that stress [0:17:00], get through what you saw here, and deal with that?
RB: I was just so thankful to get my daughter and brother-in-law back that I felt very blessed that, you know, everything worked out the way it did. So I just have to give that one to the man upstairs.
LB: When the next large hurricane hits, will your experience with Harvey change how you prepare for it?
RB: It will. You know, I think that over time — going back to Katrina, we were not prepared for that. The State of Louisiana was not prepared. And like I said, I don’t know that anybody would have been prepared, but every major disaster we have, there’s good that comes out of all of it. And be it that we learn from our mistakes to do better the next go ‘round or that, you know, there are some things that we know never to do again. And I — and I think that overall [0:18:00] it was — the Harvey deal, yes, there was devastation. Yes, a lot of people lost their homes to floods. But the death count was very low as compared to storms in the past. I think that’s all due to the experiences that we’ve had as a country.
LB: In your line of work, whenever a major storm hits the Louisiana area, what do the sheriff’s offices tell the residents? Is it safer to stay inside? Do they tell them to get out? What are some tips that they give your residents to prepare for the storms?
RB: We’ve learned to take every storm very seriously. An example, this recent storm that just hit Florida, we went to bed one night. It’s a Category 1. And we woke up the next morning, and it’s about to make landfall as a Category 4. So when the — when officials tell you to evacuate and get out, there’s a reason behind that. And that Florida storm was a perfect example. You don’t know what these storms [0:19:00] are going to do. It’s always best to side on — error on the side of caution. Because you know, once you’re there and you’re trapped, not only do you put yourself in danger. But you put rescuers in danger, too.
LB: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Mr. Beauregard. Is there anything else that we have not discussed that you would like to talk about?
RB: No, I think that covers it.
LB: Alright. Thank you so much.
RB: Thank you. [0:19:31]