Into Chaos (Part 1): Harvey Boat Rescue

Note: These Harvey posts are a bit long and lack grammatical fine tuning! I wanted to get these stories out for all our supporters before I forgot it all! Thanks for reading.

First of all, I want to thank everyone for their prayers and financial and logistical support for our team.  We didn’t even ask for money, but some of our friends took the initiative. With the money we were able to fund fuel for several vehicles (and leave fuel at a donation drop point for their generator), buy supplies, and gave us one night in a motel to refit before continue on.  With the leftovers we are now working out how best to use it for potential disasters from Irma.

It was an amazing effort to be a part of.  None of the stuff we did was “heroic”. None of it was pulling people out of swift waters, burning buildings, life-saving medical techniques, etc.  We were just part of the thousands and thousands of people who came to do what they could to help. I like to think that it is what most normal people would do given the resources and time.  We did do some boat operations, but most of what we did over the week was work with some amazing people doing escort, security, logistics, and supply drops.  Because so many people were supporting us, I wanted to make sure I could tell the story.

What we experienced in Texas can best be described as chaos.  Sure, there was the type of chaos that comes with physical danger (flood waters, etc.), but most of the chaos we experienced was just the craziness that comes with such an enormous disaster: the thousands of rescuers that descended on the area, skies filled with military aircraft, people wandering the streets with all they have on their backs, fuel shortages, driving contraflow on interstate highways, everyone was armed and nobody was asking questions, retail parking lots turned into landing zones and staging areas, the information and rumor overload (“THE LEVEES ARE ABOUT TO BREAK” was the phrase of the week), etc.

One of the Marine Corps mottos is “Toward the Sounds of Chaos” (ironically I worked as the Marine Corps Advertising Operations Officers where I helped develop slogans like this).  In the Marine Corps context, it is largely speaking of danger, violence, and war.  But it is also talking about friction like natural disasters and humanitarian crises.  What we saw in Houston was thousands of ordinary men and women, many from other states, descending into the chaos area to help however they could.  I don’t believe that is an anomaly, that is what most Americans would do if they had too.  I saw a meme that said “Average dude with a boat: hero to Texans.” On point.  However, what was also amazing was to see the large number of veterans that not only descended to the area but also formed impromptu task forces like mine.

The military, particularly the Marine Corps and combat arms branches of other services, specializes in chaos.  From basic training, regular exercises, and combat deployments, military members are trained to deal with chaos and the “fog of war” (or in this case “fog of disaster”).  Perhaps we are just crazy enough to want to go toward chaos when it comes, but that ability and willingness really doesn’t have to do with just being “brave”. It comes with a lot of training and a lot of trust.  The leadership principles the military instills in its members are very helpful in situations like Harvey, especially: decisiveness, judgment, initiative, and tact.  Further, most members are trained in first aid, safety, and other special skills that come in handy.  Being veterans (or in our case current reservists) also opens up a lot of doors to work with law enforcement and other officials in ways normal civilians cannot.  Many of them are veterans themselves.  When you say you are a Marine Corps Officer, that automatically gives a certain level credibility.  Lastly, veterans can build trust with one another much more quickly.  There is already a level of inherent trust there anyway.  I barely knew Jeff before this week, but I trusted him with my life if the situation arose. This trust and experience allowed teams like ours to form as almost militia units.  We ran into and heard of other teams operating similar to our team.  There was an informal chain of command, by nature of rank and age.  We ran convoys like a military convoy,  conducted recon, had briefings, gave safety briefs…it just happened because it is our nature.  It was truly an incredible experience.

Monday 28 August

I was sitting in Las Cruces, New Mexico with my sister, brother, and grandmother on vacation.  We were glued to the news watching Hurricane Harvey. We are all native Texans and I was born and raised in the Houston area.  I was incredibly distracted by it all.  As I continued to watch my friends in Southeast Texas post about the storm and watch the incredible stories on social media, such as what Mattress Mack from Gallery Furniture was doing to help people, I was very moved.  After I heard about the catastrophic flooding that would last for days, all I could think about was getting down there to help.  Not only am I a Marine, but I am an experienced recreational boater, trained in combat life saving (CLS), current on CPR/AED/First Aid, a survival swimmer (CWSS) in the Corps, and my primary job in the Marine Corps is Assault Amphibian Vehicle Officer (armored tracked vehicles that swim ship to shore) and know something about water safety, boat navigation, and recovery.  I just had to do something.

I posted on Facebook 

Wes Jagoe: Are there any Marine reserve units deploying to Houston? Anyone know how an IMA [Individual Mobilization Augmentee] can volunteer?

A fellow Marine Corps Reservist I work with, who resides in Austin, replied:

Jeff Broaddus: Wes Jagoe you got a boat? I’m a peace officer [Buda, Tx], EMT and CWSS  [Combat Water Survival Swimmer]. I’m chomping at the bit. Same question.

Wes Jagoe: No sir, I’m a CWSS too and assault amphibian officer and a motivated Marine!  I’ll go as a civilian , just don’t want to show up but do something productive. I hear it’s near impossible to get in now, so perhaps after waters receive they will need house to house searching and clearing of neighborhoods.

When Jeff came home from work his wife noticed that he was asking funny.  He explained that he was watching the Harvey coverage and heard them call for for experienced boaters and medically trained personnel, both of which he was.  He felt like he should do something.  His wife said “you know what to do, put out your feelers. God will open a path.”  So he logged onto Facebook and immediately saw my post.

I talked it over with my siblings and my Grandma.  This is the only vacation I have ever taken with my siblings as adults.  I was really looking forward to the time, but I was so distracted by what was happening in Houston.  I just had a churning feeling.  They were sort of supportive but thought I should wait until I know more.  I spoke on the phone with Jeff and told him “if you can get a plan together, I’ll be on a plane tomorrow.” I told my sister “you know I have to go.”

“I know you do” she replied.

At about 10 pm I went to Wal-Mart to buy some gear, just in case I ended up going.  My sister said, “I am headed to bed, let me know what you plan.”  I told Jeff “All I have is flip flops and shorts, should I buy stuff at the store?”

“I have plenty of gear,” he said.

When I got home, my Grandmother was still awake.  I had made the decision to try to get on the first flight to Austin in the morning.  I called American Airlines and asked to change my Awards flight home to Pittsburgh to the Tuesday morning to Austin.  They were going to charge me a change fee, even after I explained what I was going to do. “I am a Marine Corps Officer and have been a loyal American Airlines member and card holder or 5 years. I am headed to Houston to help with boat rescues, I’d really appreciate if you could waive the change fee.”

She replied “Unfortunately, Austin is not in the affected area, so I cannot waive the fee.”  I asked to speak to the manager who was very kind and very appreciative of what I was going to do, and was able to waive the fee.  I booked a one-way ticket to Austin for 6:30 am.

My grandmother gave me two green military parachute bags from her late husband.  One was from the 1940’s, what he used to immigrate from India.  The other was from his days as the Commissioner for the US-Mexico Boundary appointed by Reagan.  I packed what I needed and left my laptop, iPad, and some other important things for my Grandmother to ship back to my house.  As I lay down in bed for few hours, my mind was running 1000 miles an hour, I could not sleep.

Tuesday 29 September

I woke my family up at about 1 am and said: “I am taking an Uber to El Paso now, I can’t sleep.”  My Grandmother got up and sent me off.  After my $100 hour long ride to El Paso Airport, I slept in the terminal until the ticket counter opened and I asked for an earlier flight. On the flight I had a wave of sadness wash over me.  I had not slept, I was leaving my family and cutting short time with my siblings and Grandma (which I was really looking forward too),  I had school work to do, and I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. It all happened so fast.  I was already regretting my decision, but that regret went away the moment we arrive in Houston.

When I landed in Austin, Jeff texted me “I got a boat and a truck.”  He had spoken with Austin Boats and Motors about a boat and what we were going to do.  The owner actually ended up lending Jeff an 18 foot Mako flat bottom fishing boat on nothing more than a hand shake.  The owner even transferred the boat title to his name and under his insurance. Amazing!   I made it out to his house where he lent me several sets of Marine Corps MARPAT trousers, some t-shirts, a hat, and a pistol.  I have a handgun permit that allows me to open carry in Texas, though it wouldn’t have mattered because everyone was carrying (likely illegally) everywhere we went.  There were several reports of muggings and assaults on rescuers in parts of Houston and rescuers were warned not to go into certain places without an armed escort. Further, we had so much fuel, equipment, and food that we could have been prime for theft or robbery.   We decided to not dress fully as Marines, to ensure nobody mistook us for being on official business but wanted to wear just the Marine trousers in order for people to realize we were veterans of some sort.  That really ended up going a long way in many situations.

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One of the apps that populated Google Maps with rescue calls (blue pins), completed calls (green checks), assaults on rescuers (gun), and bio-chemical hazards (such as the red zone and biohazard symbol from the Crosby chemical plant explosion).

We discussed what we were about to do and the very real dangers of what we were going to do. We agreed to use the military aviation term “knock it off.”  In aviation if any pilot or crew member is uncomfortable with what the aircraft is doing, anyone can say “knock it off” and they will stop. No questions asked.  Jeff and I agreed to similar, if either of us was uncomfortable we would say “knock it off” and no longer proceed.  We also discussed the police aspect:

“I may need to wear my police officer hat,” Jeff said.  “I’d love for you to be armed, but that is up to you. I certainly want you to help me if I need it, but you only do what you are comfortable with.”

I replied “I’ll wear the pistol and carry a rifle if you need, and I’m certainly willing to help when you need.  My default will be to defer to you de-escalate any situation and do what you direct.”

We made our way to Houston, stopping at many stores for fuel, food, and supply along the way.  Both Jeff’s wife and his friend in Hawaii set up fundraising accounts to help with our fuel, which received an overwhelming response (we were able to fund many other of our team’s fuel and food).  On the way, we had to navigate along some back roads because of water closures.  When we finally made it to Houston, we linked up with some fellow veterans, only one of which Jeff barely knew, at a house in Cypress. The owner and his family were incredibly hospitable, especially to guys they had never met.  We developed a plan with the other guys and all went to sleep.

Wednesday 30 August

The morning began at 0500.  Everyone started to prepare their boats. In total there were three power boats, a john boat, two jet skis, and over a dozen men.  Before taking off, I prayed with everyone for safety and wisdom in our day’s efforts.  We took off towards West Houston to areas where we knew there was flooding.  There was so much information flowing through phone apps like Zello ( a walkie-talkie app which was heavily used by the Cajun Navy and other groups to dispatch rescue calls), Facebook, texting, emails, etc.  It was hard to really know where to go.  Jeff and I got intel from a Houston SWAT team friend of his that there was an Emergency Operations (EOC) set up at the Memorial City Mall, so we split from the rest of the team and headed there.  The mall parking lot was filled with both official and civilian boats.  Search and Rescue swimmers from police and fire departments from all over the country were staged ready to go.  Civilian boaters wait next to them, prepared to roll out when needed.  We found the fire chief who was heading this EOC and asked him how we could help:

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The large group we were with the first morning, preparing to leave.
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Emergency Operation Center at Memorial City Mall
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Civilian boaters staged at Memorial City Mall
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Some of the many official rescue teams staging at Memorial City Mall

“We cannot dispatch civilian boaters to rescue operations.  The best thing they can do is to wait next to these official teams and roll out right behind them to a launch site.  They will be used, they are needed.  Nobody will stop them, we just cannot dispatch them to do anything.”   The common theme this week was that officials were limited and regulated by FEMA and other agencies as to working with civilians.  Many EOCs we walked into across the state there were tons of military and local rescue units sitting around, while civilians were out rescuing.  Many officials were frustrated at their hands being tied, that is why they were thankful for the civilians.  I believe the chief, like many officials we ran into during the week, saw us as somewhere between official assets and civilians. Jeff (and later McCoy) was wearing his police badge.  We were all in partial military uniform and wearing firearms and would introduce ourselves as reserve Marine Corps Officers.

We both walked into Target, which was closed to public but open to first responders, to use the bathroom and buy some food.  They had received a small amount of water and was drying out the store.  When we came out, a local Constable Deputy sergeant gave us the address of a house that needed rescue.

“You will have to go all the way to 610 because the Beltway is under water.  Go exit on Westheimer and turn right on Wilcrest.  Just keep going until you see water, launch there” he directed us.

We jumped into the truck and booked it to the location.  When we arrived on the scene,  it was a bit chaotic.  The water on the street was about a foot for several blocks, so we had to drive into deeper waters to launch.  This area was just south of Buffalo Bayou, one of two major waterways in Houston.  It didn’t initially flood with the storm, only after the fact as water accumulated and began to overflow reservoirs. These people went to bed Tuesday night and awoke to water in their homes.  There were people walking through the water carrying whatever they could grab.

Jeff and I threw on life jackets, attached his red and blue police strobe lights to the front of the boat, and threw our medical bags inside. We got our boat launched with the help of some others and made our way to the address.  As we moved down Wilcrest towards the Bayou, it got much deeper.  The first obstacle I saw a nice black Dodge Charger with only the top of the roof visible.  There were boats everywhere. Airboats, fishing boats, canoes, traditional Vietnamese dinghies, rubber craft, surplus military 5-ton trucks, and massive construction dump trucks.  US Air Force and Coast Guard CH-60 helicopters were hovering overhead hoisting people off rooftops.  C-130 planes were doing low flyovers.  This was just one section of town, this was happening all over.

As we neared the address, we noticed that entrance to the neighborhood was slightly higher and not deep enough to get our boat across.  There were boats on the other side that had launched in another location.  The water in this location was a bit swift, but only about a foot high.  I pushed through the water to talk to the other boaters to see if I could find someone to go to this address.  The house was within sight.  I finally talked to a Constable Deputy sitting in a boat and asked her to check it out.

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Military (either USAF or USN) H-60 search and rescue helicopters over Wilcrest Drive, Houston.
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Wilcrest Drive

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“I’ll add it to my list” she replied.

Then I noticed someone walking outside the house and decided whoever was in had been contacted.  As I walked back to our boat, we were asked by some others to transport a family that had been pulled out of house.  One was a 91-year-old woman with a broken hip.  We gently put her into the boat, along with her daughter and two other men.  We gave them all life jackets and began followed another boat to the recovery point.  As we were in the middle of Wilcrest, Jeff accidentally broke the emergency shutoff lanyard, the boat died.  He tried to fix the switch then the ignition key actually pushed into the boat consul.  We both scrambled. Jeff sliced his finger open and was bleeding all over the controls.  Though we were in a more still location, having the boat die in the current was very dangerous.  It could carry the boat and smash it into a house, tree, or car under water and flip it over.  I pressed the tiny button in, in lieu of the safety clip.  It started digging into my finger and become painful.  I accidentally let it go and we had trouble restarting.  We got going again and got nearer to the bridge over Buffalo Bayou, where they were taking the rescued into surplus military trucks.  I was afraid of releasing the button here, because the water was extremely swift and deep, about 8 foot.

I held the old woman’s hand with one and kept the button held down with the other hand.  “I bet you never thought you’d be riding down your street in a boat, huh ma’am?”

“No.  I actually was flooded out of my last house years ago, then decided to move here” she said.

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Rescuers helping the 91 year old woman out of our boat and into the back of the black pickup truck on Wilcrest Drive Bridge over Buffalo Bayou.

(Video Above: Boating down Wilcrest, notice all the cars under water)

(Video Above: At the Buffalo Bayou Bridge)

As we got close, a man yelled out “Medevac on the right side, non-medevac on the left.”  We brought the boat next to the truck and unloaded the three mobile passengers.  We then pushed the boat across the bridge, which had almost two feet of water on it, to unload the woman into a truck.  There were tons of people on the dry land waiting for family, filming, launching boats, and just watching.  As the boat sat on the bridge, I ripped out the safety switch and rigged it up to keep the button pressed.  After we unloaded the woman, we pushed back into deep water.  I sat on the front of the boat pointing out all the cars, most of which were barely visible below water.

We moved into an apartment complex area.  This is where the water was the most swift.  We began to call out “RESCUE!”  “RESCUE!”.

We heard a faint “hey!”  Jeff pulled back on the throttle so we could hear better.

“Hey!” A woman appeared from a second story apartment window.   Jeff started to maneuver the boat towards the window.  It was very tricky because of the current.  We risked running into trees, electrical boxes, cars, and signs.

“Okay, I am going to try to swing it between these two trees,” he said.  “Hold on!”.  He hit the throttle and I jumped up to the front to push off from a tree.  We got right up to the building and I grabbed the top of the iron fence and held on.  Jeff tied the boat to a tree.  I yelled up to the woman.

“How many do you have with you?  Any medical emergencies? Any infants or elderly?”

“There are three of us.  Myself and my two daughters.  The youngest is five” she called out.

“Okay, is there a way to get to your door from the right side of the building?”  I asked.

“Yes, we can go around. But we need another hour to pack.”

Jeff responded “ma’am, you don’t have time to pack. We need to go and go right now.”

“I need more time to get my things.  We will take the next boat, I promise.”

I yelled out, “This IS your boat, the water is rising, it bad.  You need to leave now.”

“I have to pack some things.  We just need an hour.  I have to go to work and need to get my work clothes together.”

“Ma’am, nobody is going to work.  The whole city is shut down” Jeff said with a little exaggeration.

“We are okay, we will take the next boat. Thank you.”

“They are pulling boats out soon,” I said.  “There may not be another boat.”

“Ma’am, I am a police officer and if I could get up there I would take your daughter and arrest you for child endangerment” Jeff threatened.  “Nothing is worth the life of your child.”

We were both fairly certain that the water would not fill the second floor.  The bigger threat was that there would be no boats that come back to her and they get stuck without food, water, or means to get out.  The water was filled with chemicals, bacteria, and wild critters that could pose a serious danger.  Further, there was a slight danger of structural integrity failures.  However, the woman held her ground and insisted that she had to stay and pack.

“I’ve got one more trick up my sleeve” Jeff whispered to me.

“Okay,” He yelled up.  “Give me your name and date of birth so we can identify your bodies.” She did.

We moved on down the apartment complex and began to weave in and out of the complex.  Other boaters were doing the same.  We continued to yell out “RESCUE!”  The units seemed mostly abandoned, though we did see one guy who insisted on staying. We passed by a balcony with several neon colored clothing articles tied to the railing.  It was likely others saw it too and helped evacuate, but we couldn’t be sure.  A man on a jet ski passed us and I hopped on the back and had him take me to the balcony.  I housed myself up onto it and went over the railing.  I opened up the sliding glass doors.

(Video Above: moving between apartment buildings)

“HELLO!  Anyone here?”  There was a strong smell of mold and sewage. It was evident whoever left did so in a hurry.  I looked down the stairwell to the first floor and saw water up to the ceiling.  After checking all the rooms, I went to the porch to remove the neon clothes. I then dug through the bathroom sink area, found some lipstick, and wrote “CLEARED” in bold letters on the sliding glass doors.  I didn’t want others to come and search again and again.

Once back in the boat, we had an address relayed to us by a friend.  We headed back to the neighborhood we first went to.  Since we couldn’t get into the neighborhood by boat, I decided to see if I could on foot.  From the main road, it was only short distance if one could cut through yards. I took an ax busted out a few fence slats and climbed through.  On the other side, there was a man in the driveway in his lifted truck.  There was no water in his house yet.

“Sorry sir, I didn’t know anyone was home. I broke apart your fence, but just the slats. You can re-nail them. I’m trying to get to Vistawood drive. ”

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Jeff snapped this pic while I was inside the second-floor apartment unit.
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Going to ax through the fence.

“That’s okay, thanks for being here.  Vistawood is a few streets over.”  I couldn’t get there without going through some deep water, so I went back to the boat.   Next to Jeff was a trained EMT and rescue diver. I told him where we needed to go and we decided to try to go there through the main entrance to the neighborhood, where the water was too shallow to move our boat.  We found an airboat who was willing to take us to the address, so we hopped in and took off.

The target house didn’t have water inside yet.  I knocked on the door and opened up. “Hello, did you call for rescue?”  A man came out of the kitchen.

“No, we didn’t call for rescue.” I read him the names and address I was given, they were right.  He had no clue who called for it.  “My mother is elderly, she doesn’t want to move.”

“Well sir, someone called for you. I highly recommend you leave.  The water is rising and the main street is extremely deep.  They are saying water will not subside for weeks.  This may be your last opportunity to leave.”

“Just give us a minute, we need to get some things,” he said.  I walked next door where a family of three (mom, dad, and a teenage son with some pets) were standing in the driveway.  They were a bit unsure of what to do and were talking it over with each other.

“It is really bad out on the main road,” I told them.  “The water is rising and most people in this area have been evacuating.  I recommend you leave.  They may pull out all the boats like they did in Katy yesterday.  There is no guarantee there will be others if you need them later.”

“We are not leaving unless our neighbors on both sides leave.  Please go talk to them” the woman asked me.  I walked next door and talked to the neighbors on the other side and convinced them to leave.  So the family and one of their neighbors got in two small fishing boats.  The first family was still packing and I told them we had to go.  I asked an airboat (airboats were very useful but extremely noisy and made it difficult to hear each other or others calling out.  Plus they created an enormous amount of wind and blew water and objects all around). to stay and wait for them and I rode back in the small boats with the other families.  The teenage boy and his mom were in the boat holding their two dogs and two caged cats, the dad stayed behind and was going to take the kayak out.   The mother was very appreciative.  The boy was grasping tightly to his scared dog.  I wanted to take a picture of him and his dog.  After the first one, with a big smile on his face, he said: “hold on, I want to take one with a serious face!” (sounds like something I would do!) I think it is one of my favorite memories of the whole trip.

The boat driver took the boat to an evacuation point on Kirkwood, quite a distance away from Jeff.  When we got near, I took the large golden retriever in my arms and carried him to the dry area and waited for the boy to grab his leash.  I gave the woman a hug and said “God Bless You.”  (EDIT: I actually contacted this family using Google street-view to find the address number, white pages, and left a message. I was able to send them pictures and video of their family). 

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The airboat I rode to the houses.
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The boy and his pets.

“All civilian non-law enforcement, military, or fire personnel must get their boats out of the water” some man was yelling.  This caused much confusion.

“What?! Why? Who ordered that? IT IS CIVILIANS PULLING THE PEOPLE OUT OF THE WATER!” one man began to argue. “There is no command and control here!”

“Hey buddy, do you have a uniform on?” A first responder asked rhetorically.

“No.”

“Then keep quiet and let us do your job.” (Or something like that, I don’t remember the whole conversation).

The man approached me, I guess assuming I was law enforcement or considering my veteran look as something more than “civilian”.  “Hey man, you need to tell any civilian boaters you see that they need to be out of the water.”   I am not sure who gave that order, but it certainly wasn’t being enforced and seemed silly at the time.

The boat I was with had to pull out there so I called Jeff and told him he needs to come get me.  Then I saw another boat headed that way and waded waist deep out to them and they gave me a ride back to Jeff.  Onboard were two NBC reporters who asked me some questions (I ended up being contacted by another NBC news reporter, but nothing came of it). We ended up passing the house I had broken the fence. “Let me out here, I’ll just go right through the fence to the other side.”  I jumped out and walked up the driveway.  The man came out.  “Hey, I was here earlier, I just need to jump through the hole in the fence to the other side.”

“Ay…I already fixed it.”  By then the boat was gone.

“I’ll just jump over it.”  So I scaled the wooden fence and then he handed the ax over to me.

Jeff and I jumped back in the boat and headed back to check on the woman in the apartment.  As we got to her street, the water was a few inches higher and seemed to be moving more swiftly.  It was much harder to see the rooftops of cars now, though I still sat on the front to call them out to Jeff.  When we turned the corner onto her street we saw a wooden rowboat scuttled and up against a large tree that had fallen in the water. There were life jackets floating around it.

“Jeff, do you see that!”

“Dang, I hope there was nobody in that, I’ll try to get closer.”

“Oh, they’ve got it tied up to the tree. I don’t know, I mean we should check though. You think we are good? I mean what the heck?”

“There are PFDs (life jackets) floating, I meant that is a little weird,” Jeff said.  “I mean I hate to say it, but if it is a body we just mark it and leave it in place. That is what Pat (SWAT friend) told me this morning.” We pushed to the other side of the tree. “Is there any way to check from the other side?”

(Video Above: When we came upon the submerged boat)

“It looks clear,” I told him. So we continued to push to the apartment.  Jeff hit the throttle and moved a couple of yards and then our boat came to an abrupt stop.

“We are stuck on something, maybe a car.”  Jeff tried to throttle forward, then back.  Nothing. I put my foot into the water and felt the top of a car.

“It’s a car alright, I am standing on the hood.” I carefully put both of my feet on the car, holding onto the boat tightly.  The current was very strong, the last thing I wanted to do was fall in.  I pushed off the car and freed the boat.  Jeff quickly hit the throttle and moved us back into the middle of the road.  We looked back and saw that our motor fin had sliced through the top of the car like a can opener.  We floated over to the building and called out for the woman. Another boat came by and he told us that they had just evacuated a woman and her daughters, they seemed to match the description.  So we continued to move into the next neighborhood.

The first house we passed there were two men waiting outside to be taken by boat.  They already had life jackets and were ready to go.  We lodged between two trees and tied down. I asked if they could find a broomstick or similar so I could use as a sounding stick (to check depth or feel for cars), so one of the men went into the garage and got a broom handle.   Jeff jumped in, up to his chest, and helped them. They climbed into the boat and we took them to the evacuation point, then headed back into the same neighborhood again.

The houses in the adjacent area were million dollar homes.  The water was up to the roofs on some of them.  There were Jaguars, Porches, antique cars, BMWs, Mercedes…mostly all underwater or about to be.  Some houses had nice gas porch lamps with flames still flickering, which was both eerie and seemed dangerous.  It was evident most people in this neighborhood had left already.  We went up and down the streets, there were not many boats around us.  At some point, we had to get out and pull the boat because it got a little shallow.  After a while, we decided to head back towards the launch area.  We had some other addresses sent to us to check, but we couldn’t get them by boat.

Back at the launch point, there were some Coast Guardsmen controlling the area. There were also two Mexican men, who didn’t speak English (likely undocumented) who were holding boats for people.  I spoke to them a little in Spanish and gathered their houses were flooded and they were out here helping rescuers.  I waited for Jeff to get the trailer in the water and then loaded up the truck.   As we pulled out of the water, people were waving, smiling, and taking pictures of all the boaters coming out of the water.  Everyone was so grateful.

Continued on Into Chaos (Part 2)- Our New Team

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Jeff maneuvering the boat with the help of a Coast Guardsman at the launch point.
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The men who did not speak English helping boaters launch and recover.

2 thoughts on “Into Chaos (Part 1): Harvey Boat Rescue

  1. Thank you, Wes, for sharing this powerful story. I am so proud of you, my son-in-law, Jeff, and all those who helped save so many people during this disaster.
    God bless you all.

    Like

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