JACKSON, Miss. - Gov. Phil Bryant said Friday that state emergency responders rescued more than 500 people from parts of south Mississippi that flooded in Hurricane Isaac.
Many of them had remained in low-lying areas where local officials had ordered mandatory evacuations.
Bryant said that Mississippi National Guard soldiers rescued 372 people; state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks officers rescued 121; and Department of Marine Resources workers rescued at least 20.
Local agencies, including law-enforcement officers and firefighters, also saved people threatened by storm surge or water that rose quickly because of heavy rainfall.
"These are the real heroes of Hurricane Isaac," Bryant said of the rescuers.
Among those pulling people to safety were Master Sgt. Eric Jude and Chief Warrant Officer Tim Senseney of the National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group. Members of the battalion rescued 68 people, 10 dogs and two or three cats.
"It kind of really hits home for me. There were two kids, I think age 4 or age 5. That was the same age I was when our house was flooded," said Jude, who grew up in eastern Kentucky. "And I just so vividly remember, now as an adult, being a small child in an aluminum boat trying to go find higher ground. My heart just went out to those kids. I was like, you know, this is something they will remember forever."
Senseney helped rescue an 86-year-old World War II veteran from the eastern Jackson County community of Helena, which flooded because of heavy rains.
"He was in his house with his wife," Senseney said. "He was an island-hopping Marine. He was in Iwo Jima, the whole nine yards."
Jude, 41, lives in the north Mississippi town of Byhalia and is a full-time Guardsman who works in Grenada. Senseney, 43, is a Harrison County deputy sheriff and K-9 officer, in addition to serving in the Guard.
Jude said that even after rescuers went out on boats and offered help, some people insisted on staying in elevated homes while the water continued rising. In those cases, Guardsmen marked spots on their GPS devices and gave the people information about how to stay in communication if they changed their minds. He said many people whom the rescuers helped in south Mississippi remind him of those he grew up with in Appalachia - proud and self-sufficient.
"It's amazing to see the resolve they have to not always, you know, when the local law enforcement says they need to get out - it's hard for some of these people," Jude said.
Several of the rescuers insisted on helping pets.
"We had a lot of animal lovers on our boats, too," Jude said. "The guys were like, 'Hey, we've got to get these dogs.' and I'm like 'Yeah, we'll get 'em. Take them to some high ground, at least. Give 'em a chance."'