HOUSTON - Days of torrential rain have ended in Houston, but many neighborhoods are still under water, especially those near overflowing dams and rivers. The catastrophic weather has brought out a host of volunteers — from across Texas and from other states — to lend a helping hand. Many came with their boats.
Vietnamese-American Peter Chau does not have a boat but decided to turn out to help. His home in the northwestern part of Houston was not flooded. His parents, who came to the United States from Vietnam, said he was doing “a good job” by volunteering for the search-and-rescue efforts.
“We went to downtown Houston and rescued some people that were stuck in their home ’cause the levee broke down there,” Chau said. “We’re trying to get them out as fast as we can.”
The volunteers may not have known each other before, he added, but they all feel like family now.
“No matter what color or race, everyone is out there on the boats. No matter what color, race, we’re there as Houstonians, Texans — helping each other out.”
Volunteers show up
Volunteers have converged on staging areas around Houston, where boat owners get their assignments — which neighborhoods to search for stranded flood victims and where to take them.
In northwest Houston, one of these staging areas is at 3P Offroad, an all-terrain vehicle shop. Through social media, volunteers with or without boats have been gathering here before heading to flooded neighborhoods. People have also been coming to donate household items that flood victims need, such as toilet paper, blankets, water and diapers.
Debbie Winters, who stopped by to pick up some supplies, lost everything when floodwater swept through her home.
“It was up to the second floor in our house ... [then] went up to the third floor. ... The family got out, but my boyfriend did stay to try to protect the house. He had to be rescued by boats,” Winters said.
Fear of burglars and looters prompted some homeowners to stay put, but then the water began rising. Because of the extraordinary depth of the floods in some areas, some of those Houstonians guarding their homesteads became stranded, surrounded by water far too deep, and often moving too rapidly, to attempt to reach higher ground.
Stranded, but not ready to leave
Justin Albert is one of the volunteers who has been cruising through flooded streets in his boat to see who needs help.
“We ran this river yesterday and found some people on their second-story balconies,” Albert said. “They weren’t willing” to board his boat, he continued, “so there’s nothing we can do about that.”
Steering his craft into a neighborhood that’s now a river, near Humble in north Houston, Albert and his friends heard dogs barking and found two dogs who needed to be rescued from the porch of an empty house.
From people with boats, to those who are donating food, water and household items, volunteers said this natural disaster shows the good in people — all people. Houston, the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States, has a population of more than 6 million, and it is known as one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse areas, home to diaspora communities that can trace their roots to countries around the globe.
“After watching the news, seeing all the negativity going around the U.S.,” Albert continued, “this shows right here ... that Americans can come together and help each other out and be one” — united.
“If the Democrats and the Republicans and the judicial branch and the executive branch can understand that a bunch of people who have nine-to-five jobs come together and rescue people in their greatest time of need,” said Matt Haynie, who commands the 3P search-and-rescue staging area, then “right now, when our country is in the greatest time of need for itself, [the top levels of government] need to get together, and they need to work together like we are.”
“Everyone here is family,” Chau said. “It’s Texas. We take care of our own.”
The volunteers said they will continue to help in anyway they can in the days to come.