Kinship Circle
Hurricane Isaac
Field Notes & Photos

They lost all but their lives.

Ramona Billot almost single-handedly saved Plaquemines Parish animals after Katrina. Please send a tax-deductible donation to Kinship Circle, marked for Ramona and family's Isaac recovery.


Kinship Circle
Ramona & Isaac Aid
7380 Kingsbury Blvd.
Saint Louis, MO 63130

Rescued people and [Ramona's dog Lucky] are loaded into a Louisiana National Guard truck, after Hurricane Isaac flooded homes with 10 feet of water in Braithwaite, LA 8/29/12. AP/Gerald Herbert

Lt. Shannon Desroche dries off Lucky, a dog brought in with her guardian Ramona Billot, a Plaquemines resident rescued and taken to an evacuee shelter inside St. Bernard's prison. Hurricane Season 2012, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office

CNN video shows Robert Sanders as he loads some 30 animals on to a boat outside his flooded home in Braithwaite, LA. Robert stayed with their animals after wife Ramona Billot and her son Josh were rescued by boat. When video was shot, Ramona didn't yet know if her husband or animals made it out alive.

Though hard to see in this hazy video shot, above is the family's macaw, ferried through floodwaters with dogs and cats. Water rose 8-9 feet inside Ramona and Robert's home. Animals Rescued By Boat

Ramona Billot stands outside Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO), where she helped Kinship Circle's Katrina-era food/water team load 15 cats for out-of-state transport. The ittle-bittle kidden in Ramona's hands is Baby Noah, whom Kinship Circle director Brenda Shoss adopted from Plaquemines Parish. Photo © Kinship Circle, Hurricane Katrina 2005-2008

Cows stranded in Plaquemines Parish, Gerald Herbert/AP
DISCLAIMER: Restrictions due to local government's relationship with Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART) and its national partner organizations limit which animal groups may enter Isaac flood zones.

Kinship Circle Disaster Animal Response Team — in recent years deployed to many USA and global disaster zones — has remained on standby to assist in an official capacity. We do not deploy unless an agreement (MOU) is arranged with an authorized agency. Several Kinship Circle officers and volunteers are Louisiana residents who have provided food-water, rescue, or information in compliance with local law and emergency protocol. These field notes reflect their findings.

A man walks through his flooded home as water recedes from Hurricane Isaac in Braithwaite, Lousiana. AP/Gerald Herbert

Floodwaters reach the roofs of homes in Braithwaite, Louisiana. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

St. Bernard Parish residents, still living in a Katrina-era FEMA trailer, lost everything again to a 10-foot Isaac storm surge. This photo shows one of their kittens who survived. Beth Schmidt, Kinship Circle/St. Bernard Parish after Isaac 2012

Kim Johnson hopes to gain access for disaster rescuers to retrieve animals known stranded on levees and in Braithwaite homes. Kim Johnson, Kinship Circle, Plaquemines Parish 2012

Kim delivered dog/cat food to Plaquemines Parish Animal Control. She dropped off wire crates, cat carriers and Pedialyte at nearby Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society. Kim Johnson, Kinship Circle, Plaquemines Parish post-Isaac 2012
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Heartbeats In The Storm

"Hi Brenda, it's Ramona."

Finally. My friend's voice. She is okay. Ramona Billot is a rescuer and Plaquemines Parish resident saved from her rooftop when Isaac floodwaters swallowed her home — along with homes in Ironton and Port Sulphur, just above the narrow peninsula's southern tip.

Forecasts pegged Isaac as a Category 1 Hurricane. But in Louisiana, politics and levees can wreak more havoc than Mother Nature herself. For Hurricane Katrina, Ramona fled under mandatory evacuation. When finally allowed to reenter her Belle Chasse neighborhood, she drove past skeletal fragments that once were homes. Only Ramona's house survived on higher ground. Just before she and son Josh evacuated for Hurricane Gustav, we had dinner together in New Orleans. Ramona was still shaken by Katrina. But Gustav left her alone.

On the 7th anniversary of Katrina, Ramona, Josh and husband Robert Sanders stayed in their Braithwaite home home with 4 dogs, 14 cats, 12 kittens and 1 macaw. Plaquemines is not protected under the federal levee system. No post-Katrina upgrades here.

The family thought they'd survived the worst. Then the ring-ring-ring of a Plaquemines alert awoke them at 3:00 am. Get out now! Water is coming. A dark swirl topped an 18-mile levee, exerting so much force officials later punctured the floodwall to ease pressure.

Ramona and Robert lost everything but their lives. Yet in the end, it is about life. And every heartbeat in a family. Doing whatever it takes to get them out alive.

This page honors their unbelievable story of loss and love. They want you to know.

Photo: Kinship Circle founder Brenda Shoss (left) with Ramona Billot at the 2008 Katrina Memorial in New Orleans, just before Hurricane Gustav hit and Ramona's family evacuated.

We Didn't Think The Water Would Come
Four dogs, 14 cats, 12 foster kittens and one macaw. That is who shared a rented two-story in Braithwaite with my son Josh, husband Robert and me.

This home only got 8 inches of water in Katrina. So we stayed for Isaac, with 1 car, a generator, gas and food. I thought I did everything right.

By Sunday (8/26/12), I became distraught when they forecast Isaac headed our way. I had a sad, sick feeling, but tried to prepare as best I could. Where could I evacuate to with so many animals?

We were four houses away from the river levee and five to six miles from a second levee. I did not think the water would reach us. It seemed too far away.

We lost power about 7:00 pm on Wednesday (8/29/12), but closely followed weather reports on the radio. We worried about tornadoes and flooding from rainfall.

At 2:00 am, Robert begged me to get rest. [Plaquemines Parish President] Billy Nungesser spoke about the river levee topping further down.

I was not particularly nervous about the back levee. I laid down to rest in my bedroom on the first floor.
Houses submerged after a Hurricane Isaac levee breach in Braithwaite. Sean-Gardner/Reuters

It was Plaquemines alert system. The levee breached. Leave immediately. I screamed for my son Josh and began to grab items on shelves, cabinets, tables. I heard that someone had 9 ft. of water in their home. I frantically hauled animals, food, snacks, litter boxes… upstairs. I managed to get photo albums into our attic.

I ordered Josh to pack clothes. Then I threw personal belongings into a bag for myself. As we raced between floors, my cats freaked out. It was horrible. Then we waited.

We booted up a generator, followed TV updates. Josh stood watch at our front door. Neighbors stayed too, on their second floor with 7 dogs. I ran there to see them before the water came. A police officer came by and told us to leave. I explained why I couldn't, but added, "I want you to know we are here."


I Will Never Leave Without Our Animals
He saw rolling water, a fluid stampede charging us.
I hustled the kittens upstairs just as water lapped at doors. Then it gushed in and we yelled for a cat we couldn't find earlier. Some cats floated in mucky water, but Robert got them all. Furniture drifted. Windows exploded. Water rose to the top of door frames. We watched our life unhinge and collide. Water climbed at least 8 or 9 feet inside our home.

When the surge finally stopped, we huddled quietly. My cat Sophie froze on a step right above floodwaters. She wouldn't let anyone lift her and we feared she'd run to the water.

At daybreak outside levels were even higher. A steady flow carried objects down our street. In the hasty evacuation my neighbor left her indoor/outdoor cat behind, with permission to bust windows if I saw the animal. I wanted to swim over to find the poor cat, but Robert worried for my safety. I eventually saw the cat on my neighbor's roof. Wind and rain whipped around him, but I had no way to trap him.

Mr. Norwood, one of our cats, is a semi-feral who adapted to family life. As the storm worsened, I couldn't find him. We left a shed open for him to reach the dry roof area. (The next day Robert found Mr. Norwood, shaken but alive).

Josh, from his second-floor bedroom, saw it weave through rooftops in an endless sea. People aboard begged us to come with them and seemed angry we wouldn't leave our animals. I wanted to stay with them forever, but had to get my son out.

I faced Robert: "Do not leave without our animals." He said, "Ramona, I will never leave them."

Robert wanted us to stay together, but loves Josh and didn't want him to endure more. So I left with Josh in the second rescue boat. I grabbed Lucky, one our dogs, climbed out a window and slid down the roof. We rescued 4 more people along the way. Some crawled from holes cut in roofs. Everyone had at least one dog. I wept the whole way.

Water spanned as far as I could see. They ferried us to a flood wall between St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes. On the St. Bernard side, no water. There, reporters inundated us. I wanted to tell my story and let people see I was okay. I just sat there, clutching Lucky…talking and crying.

Top right photo, Tampa Bay Times: Ramona Billot, with her dog Lucky, talks to reporters after she and son Josh were rescued from their roof. At that time, her other animals were marooned with husband Robert (CNN Inside Edition video photos) on the second floor of their flooded Plaquemines home. Ramona did not know if everyone was still alive.
ramona talks to press, with one of her dogs Lucky, after she and her son are saved from rooftop, robert and 21 animals still in flooded home
In this CNN news video, Plaquemines Parish residents rescued, look for a shot of Ramona Billot shortly after she and son Josh were rescued by boat from their flooded home in Braithwaite, LA.
robert saves big dog

The Unbearable Heaviness Of Waiting
I was brought to St. Bernard jail for temporary shelter. I had nobody to get me. My own phone was dead. I sat for hours, weak and crying, with reporters in our face. I had no food for Lucky. I finally reached my ex-husband, sister and a work friend. An officer drove us to this friend's house in St. Bernard. I felt some relief after showering, but was inconsolable about my animals and Robert alone at our flooded house.

From the early-morning boat rescue until late afternoon a day later, I heard nothing from my husband. We relocated to my sister's Gretna home, but I knew we had to get to the Plaquemines Parish EOC in Belle Chasse, to help Robert and the animals. (NOTE: Kinship Circle member Kim Johnson also traced Robert's whereabouts and learned of his heroic exodus with animals in tow, via contact with Plaquemines EOC [Emergency Operating Center] — but we were still unable to communicate with Ramona.)
On Thursday (8/30/12) I found an animal control officer willing to deliver crates to Robert, if he could gain access into heavily patrolled flood zones. I was told "saving human lives comes first" and that no one had enough crates for 14 cats and 12 foster kittens. A kind National Guardsman assured me, "Robert will survive on your second floor. Your animals will survive. It will be hard for them, but Robert is resourceful."

Still, I looked for any way to help my husband and animals. I gave a Harahan police officer our address and details about each animal. I could not eat, sleep or stop my tears. I sent Josh to decompress at his Dad's house and then to stay with a friend. My first breakthrough came via Facebook, where a nephew's girlfriend posted she'd seen Robert on Inside Edition. My sister who lives in Independence called me: "Robert is on Inside Edition. He got all the animals out!" I couldn't find them, but at least they were safe.

Top photo, CNN: Braithwaite, LA levee devastation. Bottom left: Inside Edition's Paul Boyd helps Robert Sanders load animals on a boat as CNN tapes the rescue. Rescuing Pets Stranded By Hurricane Isaac

I Am Animal Rescue
Robert would know to find me through my sister, though this did little to fade my anxiety. I borrowed a car to see if PAWS (a Plaquemines no-kill shelter where Ramona has long volunteered) could provide a few days of care for Lucky. Then I fed cats at a feral colony and saw an animal control truck there. I know all these guys. Surely they'd help me, so I spoke about Robert…when suddenly my dead cell phone sprang to life. "I am safe," Robert's voicemail said. "All the animals are too. Please come get me."

After Josh and I left, other rescuers had urged Robert to leave too. He refused to budge without our animals. More time elapsed when it occurred to Robert: "I am not waiting around for animal rescue. I am animal rescue." He waded chest-deep to our shed to lug crates and traps for all the cats. Then he got a boat someone had wedged at the levee. Robert pulled the motor-less boat back home to load animals.

He saw previously unfound Mr. Norwood, our semi-feral cat named for my friend leasing the Belle Chasse house. The feral cats we feed outside were stuck in a tree. Robert moved each one into the shed's dry upper portion and left food and water. Floodwaters dropped from 12 feet to waist-deep by the time Robert was ready to haul his Noah's Ark two miles to the ferry landing. Along the way he heard dogs barking inside homes. Though overloaded, he rescued 7 more stranded dogs!

Someone spotted my exhausted husband and notified the Coast Guard to assist him. Robert sat at the landing for two hours before an animal control truck and horse trailer transported everyone to our unfurnished Belle Chasse rental. Though presently empty and without power, the house is wired for electricity and has water. We are temporarily homeless. We have no vehicles. The only clothes and personal belongings on hand are those hastily packed before the water came.

At least I can comfort my animals at the Belle Chasse rental each day. The cats are traumatized. My Hurricane Katrina rescue cowers against a wall. Some had floated in water before we got them upstairs. They're dirty and confused. My dog Lucky does nothing but sleep… But we are lucky. We have each other.

Animals After The Flood: Plaquemines Parish

SUBMITTED BY: Beth Schmidt, Kinship Circle Zone #5 Captain & DART Field Response Manager
LOCATION: Beth is a Louisiana resident working independently in Isaac flooded areas.

Small left photo: Sherry Henson tries to pull a cow stuck in a water-filled debris field in Plaquemines 8/30/12. Small right: Ranchers attempt to rescue cows with airboats. David Grunfeld/Times-Picayune.

A roughly 10-mile stretch of Highway 23, at Myrtle Grove, was still underwater. But surprisingly, most roads were open. We did okay in [resident volunteer] Alyssa's truck, until we hit spots with 6 to 8 feet of water. Near a coal pile at International Marine Terminals, several dozen dead cows floated in water adjacent to a flooded part of the highway past Myrtle Grove.

Alyssa got a call about a live cow stuck in mud for 10 days. She jotted down details about the cow's coloring, size and location. When we finally found the animal, we tried to get an ACO or Sheriff's Deputy to respond. Thus began our frustrating effort to get this cow some help. We were advised to let nature take its course and that the Sheriff's Deputy would not permit his team to humanely euthanize the animal. We located some "cattle wranglers," but they were inundated with stranded cows elsewhere.

Eventually someone reached the stuck cow's "owner," who showed up with a front-end loader. He lassoed and dragged the animal from the mud, and then scooped the cow up with the loader for relocation to a pasture with food and water. We fear this cow was too far gone to stand, eat or drink, but at least the animal is no longer trapped in the hot sun. We were dismayed to learn that the "owner" knew about another dead cow who had been alive the day before, but did nothing to ease the animal's suffering.

FROM KINSHIP CIRCLE: Once large animals like cows are "downed" for a number of days, their organs start to compress against each other. A truly downed cow usually never gets up again. Rescue organizations such as Farm Sanctuary have saved some, but it involves expensive, high-tech flotation pools at a veterinary university. Sadly, these poor animals are compartmentalized as "food sources," and thus dragged, rough handled…or left to die painfully.

A lot of the West Bank did not flood. Isaac winds took out power, but many residents have returned. Companion animal conditions are similar to those seen in any rural setting: Dogs tied outdoors, filthy kennels, lack of shade, food and water. Animals lived this way pre-Isaac. I did not see storm-related evidence that called for large-scale rescue here. However, as we asked residents what they needed and inspected kennels, we noted some enclosures with dead dogs and no signs that guardians had returned. I cannot state with certainty the percentage of kennels with dead or hungry/dehydrated animals. My gut impression is that these tragic situations are more the excepton than the norm.

► OVERVIEW, 9/9/12: Though water rose higher than Katrina levels in Plaquemines Parish, relatively small areas within the East and West Banks actually flooded. In the main deluged East Bank areas of Braithwaite and Scarsdale, companion animals were most affected. West Bank water hurt large animals such as horses and cows used in agriculture.

We traveled south to Pointe a la Hache on the East Bank, to ask residents if they need dog-cat food or veterinary aid. Many were back in clean-up mode. A few accepted dog food. A limping dog, whom [resident] Alyssa Johnson has tried to catch, escaped once again and will likely need trapping. A deep, slick mud makes search conditions wretched. We could neither drive nor float through the muck, only walk.

Sadness In St. Bernard Parish

SUBMITTED BY: Beth Schmidt, Kinship Circle Zone #5 Captain & DART Field Response Manager
LOCATION: Beth is a Louisiana resident working independently in Isaac flooded areas.

Top photo: Louisiana Nat'l Guardsmen Capt. Jared Robinson and Sgt. 1st Class Steve Choat rescue residents from LaPlace, LA on the East Bank, Arthur D. Lauck/The Advocate. Left photo: A dead tomcat is among those drowned or missing from a feral colony Beth traped, vetted and relocated, Beth Schmidt, Kinship Circle/St. Bernard Parish after Isaac 2012
► OVERVIEW, 9/2-6/12: Last Sunday I tried to get down to Reggio in lower St Bernard Parish. This small community lies a few miles outside the recently upgraded levee system. Since Katrina, Kristy, a trapping partner, and I have worked with a woman named Rhonda to TNR her feral colony, adopt out new kittens, and relocate her colony when she moved from Chalmette to Reggio. After losing everything in Katrina, Rhonda had purchased her FEMA trailer. Earlier this year she moved it to her ex-husband's Reggio property. Then Isaac totally wiped her out, with at least 10 feet of storm surge.

We could not get past a St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Deputy checkpoint without proof of residency in Reggio. Even Rhonda, who last visited her flooded trailer with relatives in a truck bearing Tennessee plates, barely got in. Lower St. Bernard is bayou. Residents have no river levee or high ground. They pretty much evacuate for any storm. Rhonda left with her companion cats and ex-husband's dog, but it's impossible to evacuate a colony of feral cats.

So far, Rhonda has found one formerly feral kitten, along with the body of a big tomcat pulled from floodwaters. The other 10 cats are missing, most likely drowned in rapid-rise water. Rhonda leaves food and water for any who might be alive and hiding. The loss of these cats hits me hard, as I devoted much effort to trap, vet and relocate them.
And now they are just gone.

Stranded On Levees And In Braithwaite Homes

SUBMITTED BY: Kim Johnson, Kinship Circle Disaster Animal Response Volunteer
LOCATION: Kim is a Louisiana resident working independently in Isaac flooded areas.

► OVERVIEW, 8/31/12: Shortly after Isaac waters topped an 18-mile levee in Plaquemines Parish, LA resident Kim Johnson drove to the Parish to assess animal aid. Items below are extracted from her report.

  • Dropped off animal supplies in Gretna, for Robert and Ramona [who lost everything in Isaac floods, but saved some 30 animals].

  • Belle Chasse Ferry is under guard by Sheriff's Department and closed to public. Only parish and emergency personnel are allowed access.

  • Plaquemines Parish Animal Control (PPAC): Pre-storm, PPAC housed 97 dogs and 24 cats, mostly companion animals of evacuated residents. When these residents checked in, their animas were logged, photographed and registered with their people. Later in the day, people and animals were to be transported to the mega-shelter in Shreveport to free space at PPAC for field rescues. So far, 27 dogs, 2 cats and 1 parakeet have been reunited with evacuated guardians. No stranded animals have been rescued in Plaquemines Parish.

  • I met with PPAC Director Raymond Ferrar to ask about access for DART teams to conduct rescue and emergency sheltering. Mr. Ferrar stated that all assistance must filter through Louisiana Department of Agriculture and LSART. I phoned LSART Director Dr. Renee Poirrier to discuss official access into Plaquemines Parish. Though our connection was muddled, she indicated that all Plaquemines field rescue would be coordinated by ASPCA.

  • I gathered information to report addresses where animals need rescue:
    Call or email Kathy - 504-393-0215,
    Provide the following details:
    • Address where animals are stranded, with full description of location.
    • Animal details (e.g., 1 black Lab, Teddy)
    • How much food/water left for animals.
    • Full name/phone number of legal guardian.
    • If reporting on behalf of someone else, give your name and phone number.
    • State if guardian is able to retrieve animal from Animal Control, if rescued.

  • LSART (Louisiana State Animal Response Team) has since posted contacts for those with animal requests, stating that Parish ACOs are "coordinating re-assessments in parishes."

    South Louisiana Parish Animal Control Numbers:
    Jefferson Parish SPCA - 504-349-5111
    East Bank - 504-736-6111
    Orleans Parish SPCA - 504-368-5191
    Plaquemines Parish AC - 504-393-0215
    St. Bernard Animal Control - 504-278-1534
    St. John Parish Animal Control - 985-651-7387
    St. Tammany Animal Control - 985-809-0183
    Tangipahoa Animal Control - 985-543-0215

  • Delivered dog/cat food to PPAC. Dropped off wire crates, cat carriers and Pedialyte at nearby Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), also set up for Isaac affected animals.
  • At Belle Chasse Ferry, CNN reporters asked, "Where were you yesterday? We were looking for animal stories because so many have asked what is happening with animals." Unfortunately, their crew leaves tomorrow. A CNN photographer mentioned a goat seen at the landing who "followed us as we departed by airboat…with a look of 'Take me with you.'" He said they saw dead cows, goats, wild boar, lots of deer and "4 legs sticking up out of the water."

  • I next drove to the Sheriff's office, where I told the wife of Sheriff Lonnie Greco about companion and farmed animals trapped on the levee or in Braithwaite homes, with no rescue underway. I asked Mrs. Greco to speak to Sheriff Greco about permission for DART teams to cross the river via Belle Chasse Ferry. Mrs. Greco later phoned to to tell me that her husband said only Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser could authorize ferry usage by animal rescuers.

  • Stopped by Plaquemines EOC to locate Billy Nungesser. While there I:
    • Told WDSU TV reporter Travers Mackel and a Houston ABC News 13 reporter about animals in need of food/water and rescue.
    • Spoke to Plaquemines Councilman Keith Hinkley, who said he'd alert Billy Nungesser and PPAC Director Raymond Ferrar about first-hand knowledge of stranded animals in Braithwaite, obtained from residents Ramona Billot and Robert Sanders.
    • Spoke to paramedics who said animal aid won't be allowed till East Bank human rescue concludes. "Animals won't starve because dead animals are everywhere."

Donate supplies, money or gift cards to Ramona Billot and Robert Sanders — left homeless by Isaac floods with more than 20 animals.

For Ramona and Robert
205 Linda Court
Gretna, LA 70053


Type RAMONA & ISAAC AID on form

Kinship Circle
Ramona & Isaac Aid
7380 Kingsbury Blvd.
Saint Louis, MO 63130

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Animal Advocacy  |  Education  |  Disaster Aid  •  •
314-795-2646  |  7380 Kingsbury Blvd  |  Saint Louis, MO 63130 USA

●  Federal 501c3 under U.S. IRS ruling, Public Charity Status: 170b1Avi
●  Tax Employee Identification Number (EIN) available upon request
●  Nonprofit Certificate of Incorporation, Charter: N00071626