Hurricane Harvey created mass destruction on the Texas Gulf Coast. For those of us living inland, it was particularly painful to watch, and one can only imagine how difficult it was to experience firsthand.
As a former resident of both Victoria and Pearland, watching Harvey destroy both my hometowns and put my family and friends in jeopardy was acutely distressing. What I witnessed after the rains stopped though, was so incredibly inspiring. I saw neighbors treat neighbors like family. I saw people sending help, food and supplies to people who needed it. I saw first responders being rescued themselves in some cases. Everywhere I looked I saw compassion, gratitude and love.
If you don't know anyone in the affected areas, then you might not have had the benefit of being able to witness the true aftermath of Harvey, which is humanity at its best. Let me share those stories with you.
Paramedic Stranded at Gas Station
Paramedic Daniel Giles was coming off a 24-hour shift when his vehicle was unable to access the flooded on-ramp to I-45. As the rain continued to pour, Giles took refuge at a nearby Shell station that was swiftly filling with other people trying to escape the deluge.
"I've been through Allison, worked on a 911 ambulance during Ike, and I've weathered countless unnamed Texas storms...but I've never seen it rain that hard for that long," Giles confessed. "It stayed pitch black until almost 9 AM."
Though they were stranded, the folks at the gas station exhibited the best of humanity.
"People of every imaginable race and socioeconomic class were already showing the empathy that the whole world got to see on the news," he told me of the other motorists. "I am so proud of how many Houstonians have stepped up to help their neighbors. Houston and its people are responding to Harvey in a way that I believe no other city would. It's always felt to me like the world's biggest small town."
Giles finally reunited with his wife and baby at his parents' house in Athens, Texas, after over nine hours in a Shell station parking lot.
Victoria Native Goes Home to Help
When Ricky Arambula saw what his family and friends were going through he left his home in Round Rock, Texas to return to his hometown to help out, but he didn't stop there.
Arambula started out in Victoria on Aug. 28 cutting down trees and removing debris from houses and yards. When he was done out there he met up with a friend in Katy.
John Guideaux had been in Houston helping folks out with his boat, and Arambula joined up with him to continue rescue efforts.
"We downloaded the Zello app which is like walkie talkie," Arambula informed me. "There was a Katy search and rescue and a Cajun navy channel. They gave us a rally point, which was Katy Mills Mall, and would then send us to a mission assignment point."
Arambula and Guideaux helped someone check on their flooded property, and they also looked in on some people who had refused evacuation.
"All the dispatchers on the stations were volunteers," he told me. "We let them know what type of boat we had and its capacity, and they gave us the best routes, road closures, etc."
Oil Lease Operator's Home Floods
When Houston Oil Lease Operator Terry Parker heard about the unprecedented rains predicted from Hurricane Harvey, he decided to send his wife and three kids away from their home on Chocolate Bayou to keep them safe. Parker himself stayed behind to help during the disaster, sleeping away from home but returning occasionally to check on his property in Liverpool. On Aug. 29, he found it flooded.
"Seeing the sum total of your life's work floating cruelly through your home will knock the wind out of you," Parker told me. "But seeing the selflessness and the outpouring of love from your neighbors will really take your breath away!"
After the water receded, over a dozen people showed up to help demo the ruined areas of the Parker household.
Firefighter's Reunion with Family Goes Viral
You might have seen this image of Houston Fireman Mark Holmes as he was just coming off a near 50 hour shift. The story not told in the image, however, is how he found himself stranded on an overpass after that shift, just miles from home.
Mark Holmes has faced hurricanes before. He was with Ladder 7 during Hurricane Ike, which was one of the first crews to reach the infamous fire that burned down Houston eatery Brennan's. During Hurricane Harvey, he was headed home after a shift that had lasted nearly 50 hours. When he got to his exit though, it was flooded.
"I wasnt sure how bad it would be when I parked on the overpass," Holmes told me. "I thought I could wait out the high water for a few hours and drive home."
When he realized that wasn't going to be an option though, he made a post to Facebook.
"My neighbor was able to drive all the way to the intersection to pick me up. I just couldn't get my truck off the freeway."
When Holmes finally made it home, his wife, Linda, snapped the famous picture.
"Linda was waiting inside the door with the camera rolling because the kids always go nuts when I get home," Holmes said of the reunion. The image made the rounds on the Internet, was featured in a Bored Panda article and put Holmes on the front page of Reddit.
"A serious shoutout needs to go out for spouses of first responders with kids at home. They haven't gotten relief from their duties either," Holmes remarked.
Infant Needed Surgery During Houston Flooding
A hurricane was the last thing on Nathally Canel's mind as she went in to undergo a scheduled c-section for her daughter, Isabella. At 39 weeks gestation, the doctors decided to deliver Isabella in order to expedite surgery the little one needed to remove a sacrococcygeal teratoma (usually benign fetal tumor emanating from the tailbone).
Isabella was born two days before Harvey made landfall, and the hurricane delayed her surgery by several days. Three days after Isabella's birth, on Aug. 26, the hospital implemented an emergency plan that cancelled all elective surgeries. "Basically because of the weather, the staff works and sleeps on site," Canel informed me. As a result, Nathally was discharged long before baby Isabella, and in the middle of a hurricane that very well might flood the streets and separate her from her newborn if she went home.
She chose instead to get a hotel a few miles from the hospital, and spent her days with her daughter as she waited for her operation. Even so, by Aug. 28, flooding made the streets impassible, separating mother from child.
Canel, who is a mother to twins already, is still exhausted from the trauma of the experience. The twins had gone to stay with her brother during the delivery. Harvey made that a problem, though, because Canel's brother lives in Port Arthur.
"They had no power and were on the verge of getting rescued by boat. My husband got there but couldn't make it back. I was stuck at the hospital on surgery day by myself," she related.
On Sept. 1, Isabella was finally taken back for a successful surgery to remove the SCT. "It was definitely up there with my top 5 worst life experiences," she told me.
Corpus Residents Flee Storm
Lety Berlanga and her family have lived in Corpus Christi for 25 years, but after Hurricane Brett in 1999, they swore they would never again try to wait out a storm. So when Harvey was scheduled to make landfall in town, they packed up and headed inland.
"We boarded up the house and got on the road Thursday night in hopes to be ahead of most of the traffic. We avoided the rain, but the traffic was heavy on I-37 - at times it was at a standstill," Berlanga told me of her evacuation experience.
"We were extremely fortunate, our house is fine. Debris was everywhere, clean up took quite a while. Most of our neighborhood was about the same," Berlanga commented.
Even while she was gone though, her neighbors were looking out for them.
"I was in constant communication with my next door neighbor and close friends all of whom had stayed. The power in my neighborhood went out for about two and a half days. According to them the winds were horrendous but the flooding never came which was our biggest worry."
Victoria Residents Work to Save Theatre
It was a tough decision for Jennifer Short, when she and her daughters evacuated their home in Victoria. Leaving her husband Curtis behind was frightening, but necessary. They returned to a home that, thankfully, did not flood. They weren't unscathed, however, their property still sustained over $7,000 worth of damage.
Worse still, was the destruction to parts of Theatre Victoria, where Short met her husband, and where the family still volunteers.
"Our home away from home, Theatre Victoria, lost almost everything when the roof of the annex building caved in on all of our sets, props and set decorations," Short related.
Short and her husband have been working with the theatre since the mid 1990s.
"I have been with Theatre Victoria since 1994. I do whatever they need, props mostly, but I have staged managed and performed as well. My husband does sound for the theatre. That's where we met, in 1995."
A note about the damage on the Theatre Victoria website states, "With the rest of you, we are heartsick about the damage and destruction to our community and the Texas coast. Thanks to everyone for your support. The show will go on."
Orange, Texas Dad Goes from Evacuee to Volunteer
It was 1:30 in the morning when an alarm started sounding in Justin McCullough's Orange, Texas neighborhood. With water already ankle-deep in his home, the dad of two and his family waded through waist high water onto an open-air evacuation vehicle with dozens of his neighbors and transported to a nearby shelter. Torrential rains pounded the evacuees as lightning lit up the sky and rough winds shifted the massive truck. It was 3 a.m. before the family was fully settled.
The next morning, McCullough decided to pitch in wherever he could.
"The building was packed, lines everywhere, people sitting on floors and standing outside. So I started handing out water, taking out garbage and by lunch time, distributing MRE's and helping unload food in the kitchen," he explained.
McCullough also helped field inquiries from concerned relatives looking for family members they'd lost contact with. When he discovered the shelter was running out of food, he made a Facebook Live video to ask for donations to the shelter.
McCullough's own home sustained two feet of water damage from the storm.
Katy Couple Coordinates Remote Rescues
Cynthia and Scott Kelley moved to Katy recently, but kept in touch with their old neighbors in Houston's Bear Creek. So when a friend texted Cynthia that they were in need of help, the Kelleys hit the road to go lend a hand. Afterwards, Cynthia noticed people who needed help were posting on Facebook to ask for it, so she and Scott began coordinating rescue efforts.
"We posted on the Nextdoor app as a shout out to everyone in the subdivision, that if they needed rescue to place white towels or rags outside on a stick or somewhere visible so the rescue boats knew someone was inside."
The move helped rescuers in the area easily locate trapped individuals.
"We directed boats out to homes where we saw people still needed help getting out," she informed me. "Sadly some people were already on their roof waiting. A lot of people were risking their lives for people they have never met before...it was amazing."