Hurricane Harvey: Two volunteers fatally electrocuted in Houston floods after saving families from drowning

Yahir Vizueth, 25, and Jorge Perez, 31, identified as late heroes while former's brother Benjamin, 31, and family friend Gustavo Rodriguez-Hernandez, 40, still missing after boat hits power cables

Kevin Sullivan,Tim Craig
Thursday 31 August 2017 14:28
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A helicopter hovers above the Houston skyline as sunlight breaks through storm clouds from Tropical Storm Harvey in Texas
A helicopter hovers above the Houston skyline as sunlight breaks through storm clouds from Tropical Storm Harvey in Texas

On Monday morning, as floodwaters were rising fast in their neighbourhood in northeast Houston, three brothers and two friends set off in a small boat to rescue anyone they could find.

In two trips, they brought two families - seven people in total - to safety, then went out a third time.

“Everybody told them to stay, that they had already done their part,” said Stepheny Jacquez, 25, a family member. “But they said, 'No, we have to go back, there's a lot of people in danger.'”

On their third trip out, around 3pm on Monday, they lost control of their boat in strong currents and drifted toward downed power lines throwing off sparks.

“They all jumped in the water and got electrocuted, and the current took them,” Jacquez said.

Now two of the men are dead, two are missing and one is in the hospital with electrical burns, Jacquez said.

“They're heroes; they were just trying to help people,” Jacquez said.

Two journalists who were on the boat to document rescue missions also suffered severe burns and were hospitalised. They were photographer Ruaridh Connellan and reporter Alan Butterfield, who had been on assignment in the area for the Daily Mail.

Jacquez identified the dead as Yahir Vizueth, 25, and Jorge Perez, 31. Yahir's brother, Jose Vizueth, 30, was rescued by police about noon on Tuesday and taken to a local hospital after spending a cold, wet night clinging to a tree along with the two journalists.

Still missing are the third Vizueth brother, Benjamin Vizueth , 31, and family friend Gustavo Rodriguez-Hernandez, 40, who owned the boat and was driving it.

Police have reported the incident but have not publicly identified the victims.

Jacquez said Jose Vizueth was able to describe the incident from his hospital bed, including the long, harrowing night in the water.

“They could see the helicopters and they were screaming and screaming, but nobody heard them,” said Jose's wife, Juany Vizueth, who was with her husband in the hospital on Wednesday as he was recovering from burns.

“Jose tried to save his brother, but the current was so fast he wasn't able to reach him,” she said.

“There were police boats and helicopters overhead and we were screaming, but no one saw us,” Butterfield said in an account on the Daily Mail.

The Vizueth brothers worked together at Perla's Motors, a used car dealership owned by Benjamin.

“They were always together,” Stepheny Jacquez said.

She said Benjamin's house flooded on Monday, so he came to his mother-in-law's home, which was still dry. Gustavo is his mother-in-law's boyfriend, so his boat was there.

“Benjamin said, 'We have a boat, we have to go help people,'” she said. “He wanted to go back into his neighbourhood to save people, because he knew how bad it was.”

The accident took place near the intersection of Wallisville Road and Normandy Street, near Greens Bayou, about 10 miles northeast of downtown Houston.

Benjamin was posting on Facebook all day Monday, with his first post coming at midnight, showing his flooded house. He posted to Facebook Live nine times on Monday; the last was a seven-minute post at 3.07pm that showed the seven men on the boat, including the photojournalist recording the events with his camera.

The men seemed to be in high-spirits, motoring through the flooded streets, past flooded gas stations, bantering in Spanish in the high winds and heavy rain. They towed a smaller boat behind Gustavo's fishing boat, and they had a huge inflatable tube.

The video ends with the men walking alongside the boat in knee-deep water.

The Washington Post

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