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LSU spokesman mounts effort to help stranded Tigers announcer

Michael Bonnette talks about helping to rescue flood victims


What started as an attempt to save former Louisiana State University play-by-play announcer Jim Hawthorne turned into a rescue mission for others stranded by the flood that devastated several Baton Rouge, Louisiana, communities Saturday.

Hawthorne retired from LSU five months ago after 36 years of service. When communications director Michael Bonnette heard that Hawthorne had planned to ride out the storm at home, he immediately tried to reach him.

“No one had heard from Jim in 10, 12 hours,” Bonnette said Tuesday on SportsCenter. “We knew the night before that his home was starting to take on water, and he was just going to wait it out and hopefully somebody would come by in a boat the next day and get him.”

Hawthorne told Nola.com that by Sunday afternoon, everyone else in the neighborhood had been rescued by boat or truck. But he was still waiting for help.

“I had spent a lot of time standing in thigh-deep water in my front yard just listening to boats, but none of them passed our house,” Hawthorne said. Of his initial decision to stay in his house, he said, “We’ve lived in our house for 25 years and you never think it [flooding] is going to happen to you.”

Bonnette feared that the retired voice of the Tigers and his wife were missing, so he went out on a boat to look for them.

“As time went on, no one had heard from Jim and we started a social media campaign to find Jim Hawthorne,” Bonnette said. “As we were launching the boat, we found out that Jim was OK.”

Hawthorne told Nola.com that he was rescued by four young men, “strangers in a boat.”

Once Bonnette learned Hawthorne was safe, he began helping others.

“We just started putting people on the boat and getting them to dry land,” Bonnette said. “We just did what any other person in that situation would do. It was heartwarming. It made you feel good. Yeah, we’ve got first responders doing great work, but we’ve got citizens in this community who have done a great job of helping their fellow man, their neighbors. It’s been really a great sight to see.”

Bonnette said it’s going to take a long time for the area to recover and “we need to make sure from a national perspective this stays in front of people’s minds because we’re going to need help down here for the long haul.”

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.