New Orleans, La. (WGNO)- During Hurricane Katrina, many ordinary people stepped up to do extraordinary things to help other people.
Nine years after Hurricane Katrina….memories continue to flood Kenny Bellau’s brain.
“I think about it everyday. It’s a defining factor in everyone’s lives here in New Orleans. Katrina was a big thing. It’s been difficult to get over. It’s been a process,” Bellau said.
Bellau’s from New Orleans, but while Katrina hit he was on a bike tour in South America. When he returned home, New Orleans felt like a Third World country.
“I just came in to rescue my cat. New Orleans had a real sadness to it, and that’s not New Orleans,” he said.
His cat rescue turned into an even greater rescue mission, something he never imagined.
“I ended up with a group of recovering addicts. They invited me on this boat. After a day, they left, and they left me the boat. I used a screwdriver as the key to start the boat everyday. I was on the boat for 13-14 days, rescuing people. We just called the boat, the “Skeeter”. It was a dependable work horse and it never failed us,” he said.
For two weeks, he embarked on his journey up and down the Uptown streets in the boat. He dressed in fatigues for protection and he rescued those who didn’t evacuate from the storm.
“A lot of times there was a psychological game going on with people. They were convinced on staying and I was convinced that they weren’t going to make it. It was a matter of life or death, especially for the elderly,” Bellau said.
As the days went on, Kenny felt broken down. A quick encounter with a newswoman made him feel human again. Even if it was only for a moment.
“Hoda Kotb walks over and gives me a hug. It was the first time in 2 months that I smelled a woman. I had to turn away because I started to tear up,” he said.
Kenny and the boat rescued over 400 people. They kept a tally on a notepad. On the boat, he wrote “This boat saved over 400 people” with his name and phone number. The boat can now rest. It now sits in front of the Louisiana State Museum in Jackson Square. The boat will always be part of Kenny’s journey. He proposed to his future wife right in front of the boat and they will get married at the museum.
Bellau remembers that the whole time there was a CD stuck in the boat. It was Journey’s Greatest Hits. He recently found out too that the keys were in the boat the entire time in the glove box, while he was using the screwdriver to start it up.
A job well done, but he still doesn’t feel like a hero.
“Just trying to get civilization back and help people. To look back and feel like I was really successful, I still don’t feel that. I feel like I missed some people,” he said.
Kenny Bellau is currently writing a memoir. He’s calling it, “The King of Uptown”.