'You can’t just do nothing': On board a Texan rescue boat with volunteers saving families from Harvey

'We saw the rescue boats and we shouted out'

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 28 August 2017 21:03
Andrew Buncombe speaks to rescuers amid Hurricane Harvey on Facebook Live

Volunteers with boats are pouring into Houston from across the region to join the official rescue effort, bringing an “Armada” of vessels and – very often – powerful memories of when the people of this city once helped them.

People from across Texas, and from neighbouring states such as Louisiana, have been coming with bass boat and flat-bottomed fan boats that can pass shallow water, helping pluck people stuck in their homes for up to 48 hours since Harvey first struck.

Steve, from Louisiana, was among several volunteer crews who were working the flooded streets of the Meyerland neighbourhood, passing vehicles that were covered in water and street signs barely still showing.

“You can’t just sit at home and do nothing. You have to try and help,” he said.

Another team member, Mike, a Texan, said the day before they had rescued dozens of stranded people; on Monday, following an easing of rain, water levels appeared to have dropped several feet from the previous day.

That was good, for now. But officials from the US Army Corps of Engineers opened damns on the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, because water was rising so high.

They said they were opening the water to flow into Buffalo Bayou, which runs through the city, in an effort to control the flow of the water, rather than have it seep out. But locals fear it will add to their worries.

Adam Brackman, who owns a bar and who has been coordinating volunteers efforts in liaison with the authorities, said people were desperate to help. He pointed out that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans in 2005 and killed up to 1,250 people, many of those who were evacuated came to Houston, where the city welcomed them with open arms.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edward pointed to this when he announced he was sending rescue boats – the so-called Cajun Navy – to help the people of Houston.

“Nearly 12 years ago, Texans opened its doors to the people of Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina devastated our state,” he said. “Since then, we've turned to them for assistance time and again.”

Indeed, many people from New Orleans have made new lives here. One young girl told local media that she had been evacuated from New Orleans, now had to be rescued from Harvey, and was was wondering what she’d done to upset the weather Gods.

People stranded on rafts as floods swamp Texas after Hurricane Harvey

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said his officers had received 6,000 emergency calls and rescued 2,000 people in the past day but more Houstonians still need help amid widespread flooding. Mr Acevedo said were there are about 185 requests outstanding for critical rescues.

Among those to be rescued as The Independent accompanied Mike, Steve and Eric in Meryerland was a family of four – a father, mother and two young children who were lifted into the boat, wrapped in black bin-liners.

The oldest girl, who was eight, said her father had been out helping rescue people with his kayak and at one point there were 17 in their home. She was cold, but otherwise fine. “My dad is very brave,” she said.

Their mother said they had been in their home since Friday night. “We had no power,” she said. “We saw the rescue boats and we shouted out.”

Another person to be saved was Phillip Whittaker, a middle-aged man who had sent his family out before the storm struck but did not believe the water would trouble his home.

“I had to swim down the street to my neighbours house – that is what I have those floats,” he said. “I’ve been there since Friday night and the water just kept getting higher and higher.”

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