I heard the rain coming down throughout the night, hard, steady. Hurricane Harvey had lost strength, but its remnants had headed to Houston for what would become an overstayed welcome. At 6am, I stepped into our backroom with a corresponding splash, where usually I’m rewarded with a thud. The water in the street was so high, that the drains in the backyard had nowhere to release. In the 24 years we’d been at our home, through all the Houston floods, water had never come over the curb, yet today water was halfway up the driveway.
Days earlier i had driven to the coast to retrieve my boat. Rockport and Seadrift were in the direct path, and after grabbing my boat, i said goodbye to my remaining assets there, including a PAKMULE I had sunk for some extreme testing and marketing purposes. With a Category 4 Hurricane imposing a 12 foot storm surge, I suspected all would be lost.
My wife began phoning friends and family while i got the generator running and hooked up the sump pump and hoses to begin draining our backyard. Some good friends in the neighborhood had 2 feet in their newly renovated home, and it was still raining. My Hell’s Bay Waterman, a boat originally built as a technical poling skiff for chasing Redfish in the back marshes with a fly rod (it’ll float in 5″ of water, and motor in 12″) would find new purpose today. The water in front of our house was 12″ and rising. I told our friends to hang tight, I would be there soon.
After gearing up, I found myself idling a boat down the street I had taught my kids to ride their bikes on, past neighbors homes where holidays were celebrated, and into areas of our neighborhood that were gravely affected. Tops of cars were all that marked the side of a street. Stops signs no longer required yielding, if even visible.
Upon reaching Buffalo Speedway, I took a measurement… 6 feet deep. The current was strong, and i had to increase speed to maintain momentum. Getting on plane, in a boat, on a major thoroughfare in Houston, the Countries 4th largest city, was another eerie reality, though one that would become normal over the next couple days.
Our friends came out of their home with emotion I cannot begin to imagine; their kids were frightened. At the end of their street a teenager was wading through chest deep water. We helped him into the boat and learned the rest of his family needed help too. As we began the journey back to my house, people began hollering for help, and after dropping our friends off, I headed back to find the young mans family. Driving down North Braeswood, I gazed onto Braes Bayou, so swollen that there was no way to determine where the bayou stopped and the flooding began. The banks, the railings, the signage was all under water. The Bayou, with its moss covered oaks, seemed to have embraced its name, in the way you might picture a bayou in the Lousiana Swamp.
I found families on their roofs, and promised to return once I was had found our young friends family. A mile down Braeswood, I found them wading in chest deep water, their belongings in an ice chest, taped shut to keep the contents dry. They were cold, lost, and a long way from dry land. After I reunited them, I spent the next 9 hours pulling folks from their homes, porches and rooftops. Other boats had joined as well, and soon there was an armada, all neighbors, doing what they could to help those in need. I kept a constant eye on the water level, particularly after the rain subsided. At the end of the day, our power restored, our family hugged a little tighter, and prayed for those that were still in need.
On Monday we awoke to drained streets. Neighbors began the emotional task of pulling everything out of their home, including irreplaceable items like pictures, wedding gifts and childrens artwork, and putting it on the curb. We began checking in with friends across the city, and realized others were still dealing with high water. It turns out that my buddies from across the city, all sportsman, had done the same thing: launched boats and helped. But there was still more to be done.
Tuesday morning we converged on Cinco Ranch, a neighborhood west of town that was in need. Dozens of boats were on hand, and hundreds of homeowners, met with a mix of emotion both sad, and relieved, were boated to dry land. Clinging to whatever belongings they could, saying goodbye to years of memories, not sure what tomorrow would bring, or even the next hour. Later in the day we launched our boats on the feeder road of Interstate 10 (I-10) to help pull residents out of some apartment complexes. Mandatory evacuations were being made, and officials were nervous and unsure if the levies would hold, and they were releasing a lot of water to try and prevent anything uncontrolled. Water was rising on our parked cars, and after dropping folks, we trailed the boats and made for home.
All across Houston the stories were the same: People helped in any way they could. Food and clothing to shelters, serving in lunch lines, cleaning out flooded houses, providing shelter and beds for neighbors, giving hugs, saying prayers and just loving on people. I am proud of Houston. Proud of how we came together, what we did and what we were doing still. #houstonstrong