(BRAITHWAITE, La.) — Residents of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana were shocked by Hurricane Isaac Wednesday morning when ocean water burst over the Mississippi River levee, covering their town and leaving thousands trapped in attics and on roofs.
Jesse Shaffer, 25, and his father, also named Jesse Shaffer, 53, both of Braithwaite, La., stayed behind in their town to rescue their friends.
While police and the fire department were unable to reach some stranded people using their vehicles, the Shaffers were able to save lives using boats.
“We rescued a lot of people, saw a lot of things you never thought you’d see,” the older Shaffer told ABC News, beginning to cry.
Each Shaffer controlled a boat, in which the pair saved a combined 120 people in 12 hours, as well as animals.
Their rescue mission began at 5 a.m. Wednesday at a local auditorium, where they rescued 10 people, including a baby and an elderly man, they said. The Shaffers had to break through the attic ventilation system to reach the victims.
“They’d call me and didn’t know the water was coming up until it was late, and they’d call me to come get them,” the older Shaffer said. “We had to scramble and try to find a boat ’cause none of the sheriff’s department or anybody could come to this end of the parish.”
The Shaffers rescued a family of five, including three children under the age of 6, from the roof of their trailer home just minutes before water overtopped it. The rescue was the older Shaffer’s most memorable of the day.
“They were all on there, screaming their lungs out,” he said.
The rapid rate at which water gushed over the 18-mile levee into their town was “unexpected,” the younger Shaffer said. As of Wednesday morning, their home had 12 feet of water in it and they had to stash their belongings in the attic, which was then flooded. Water rose six inches every four minutes, the older Shaffer said.
“There were a lot of houses we saw that were in spots that we know where they’re supposed to be and they were maybe a half a mile down the road, floating down the highway,” the older Shaffer said.
The Shaffers fought through debris, rough water, wind and downed power lines to save their stranded friends.
The older Shaffer insisted they are not heroes and they were never afraid.
“I guess we were just going on adrenaline,” the younger Shaffer said.
But the most emotional part of their day was not the difficulty of their rescue mission, but the thought of knowing their town has to rebuild.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ariane de Vogue and Laura Jarrett, CNN
Julia Horowitz, CNN