Hurricane Harvey in Houston: Rescue Operations

After Recent Weather Events in Houston, Citizens Turn to Unconventional Rescue Methods

By Matt Kollmansperger

Trucks rush to the aid of Houstonians. Image credit: ABC13 Houston

“When is the last time you watched a 1 minute silent video and got chills… this is proof amazing things can happen when we throw away race and hate and let our hearts do God’s work.” These were the first words on Aug. 30th from Cory Adams, founder of the outdoor and hunting apparel company Swamp Assassin, reflecting on the outpouring of relief in Houston. He was commenting on Instagram on a recent viral video showing the flood of civilian outdoorsmen and boaters known as the “Cajun Navy” rushing to the aid of those affected by the recent weather events in Houston, Texas. This group of Louisiana weekend warriors was developed following the disaster Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005. “Louisianans took to their boats to help each other, and the Cajun Navy was born” says Tony Marco of CNN. The organization has since gained thousands of followers as well as active members.

Deployed on the dark, rainy morning of August 29th, they patrolled the streets of Houston by boat. These “working-class heroes in boats” pulled civilians in distress off of the roofs of houses and out of the flowing currents created by the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey for almost a week with impressive success. In one heart-pounding rescue, Cajun Navy rescuers pulled a lifeless 73-year-old woman floating face down out of the flowing current. “I thought it was a trash bag…” member Joshua Lincoln stated in The New Orleans Times Picayune. “She floated right to the boat.” Rescuers were able extract her from the water and resuscitate her after 15 chest compressions. Rescues like these show the true effect that the Cajun Navy has on the lives of many helpless citizens. Ben Wallace-Wells of The New Yorker writes “there are hundreds of families …  who felt that they owed their safety not to the distant forces of government but to a neighbor who had put himself at risk to help them.”

This Do-It-Yourself mentality of citizens helping and those in need has begun to define this hurricane and the rescue and aid efforts following it. There simply has not been enough government-funded manpower to promptly and safely rescue all of those who were stranded. Luckily, Texans received help from through their eastern neighbor Louisiana, whose residents are no strangers to flooding. As Harvey continued to pound Houston with rain, “Floodwaters were rising, emergency lines were jammed, and people were posting desperate pleas for help” wrote Kevin Sullivan and Peter Holley of The Washington Post. People like Andrew Brenneise, a business development manager in Houston, quickly realized how thinly-stretched emergency personnel were and so turned to facebook to organize his own rescue flotilla for his neighborhood. “This is who we are,” he said, “the police and firefighters can’t be everywhere, so the community has to step in and take control.”

The next hurdle rescuers encountered was the simplest and most essential of them all: communication. This is where people such as freelance food journalist Keri Henry truly put their abilities to use on social media sites such as facebook, twitter, and blog posts. “I see some people commenting on one post and other people commenting on another post, and it just clicked,” said Henry, “I had no idea what I was doing but no choice except to do it.” Not all the help came from Houston; helpful citizens did their part through the internet from all over the country to connect those stranded with rescuers.

Unfortunately, there is no form of rescue for the land and property lost due to to flooding. Patrick Loach, Head of the Upper School at Collegiate, was the Head of School for five years at The Kinkaid School, a PK-12 independent school located just west of the center of Houston. Luckily, the school was not damaged, and Loach described the school’s property as seeming “like it it was kissed by God,” but unfortunately the surrounding areas were not as lucky. According to Loach, the area around the school was consistently flooded. I asked him about what it was like to live there, and he described it as a former swamp that was “as flat as it can be.” He discussed how this, combined with recent rapid population growth, and the lack of an efficient mass transit system, made Houston susceptible for a disaster such as Hurricane Harvey. While he lived there, “it was not uncommon for the street by [his] house to flood,” said Loach “and two times it did, but nothing like this.” Loach said that unlike most other schools, Kinkaid will be reopening in the upcoming weeks, due to its lack of flood damage. He stated that some schools in the Houston area would not open until next year, forcing many students to attend other schools assigned to their district.

The tragic death toll blamed on Harvey has risen to at least sixty. Yet this tragedy has also shown how great an effect civilians helping civilians had on the aftermath of this storm. Houston Police Capt. Yasar Bashir commented, “The thing that’s been completely different from anything I’ve ever seen is the way the community has responded… It’s because of the citizens that we were able to get everyone out.”

There is also a defined line for journalists between documenting what is happening to people and stepping in to help. In this disaster, the line was crossed countless times by journalists who saw a need for help and delivered. CNN broadcast live as their correspondent stopped the program to help three Houstonians stranded in a neighborhood.

Sometimes the help didn’t come in heroics such as this, but nonetheless it was there. “Traditionally, reporters have been able to help many people in disaster situations by drawing attention to people in need of assistance” writes Maxwell Tani in Business Insider. As rescuers and journalists began to truly digest the weight and severity of the situation, they both joined forces to assist in the efforts.

Featured image of Houston flooding by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez, Air National Guard.

About the author

Matt is a senior at Collegiate and enjoys the outdoors.