F or far too many people in southeast Texas this past September, tens of thousands in all, the ground was too low and the water was too high.
I wrestled for days on whether I should write about Hurricane Harvey and what its 51 official inches of rain did to the region I’ve called home for longer than I’d like to admit.
As a native Houstonian who qualifies for the senior discount at Denny’s, I’ve been through my share of hurricanes. First was Carla, before I was 10. Most memorable, until the water bomb called Harvey, was Ike.
Now, I hope, Harvey will be the worst storm I ever experience.
It blew homes off their slabs and stilts along much of the middle coast when the storm first came ashore. Up my way, more than four feet of rain—over three days—inundated the better part of the nation’s fourth-largest city. Then it beat up our friends to the east and north, into several more states, before it died.
And through it all, even when the storm was blowing and raining its hardest, thousands of brave men and women exhausted themselves and their personal resources to help others.
I learned shortly after the sun reappeared that a longtime friend, Pat Lester, used his personal airboat to rescue who knows how many people and deliver desperately needed supplies to others. He, without patting himself on the back once, wrote to tell me about a dozen mid-coast guides who left their own damaged or destroyed homes and trailered their boats to Houston for rescue efforts here.
Every night on the news, there were more clips of more everyday people using their own boats and trucks and ATVs to help people.
What I heard least in reporters’ descriptions of these brave, selfless people was that nearly every one of them was either a hunter or a fisherman. Who else, after all, would have been so comfortable under such adverse conditions? Who else would have spent their last dime and last ounce of energy coming to the aid of total strangers?
Excepting those guides who drove up from an obliterated middle coast, most of the boat operators in flood waters up here had not been flooded. Their homes and families were dry and safe.
They could have looked the other way and gone on with their lives. They could have grabbed their shotguns and enjoyed the opening of dove season on September 1. They could have driven to the coast and chased redfish.
They could have found a thousand other things to do, every one of which would have been more fun and might have helped them forget three days of torrential rain.
Instead, though, they chose to help. They burned their own gas and went without sleep for days on end. They tore up their boats and motors on mailboxes and submerged cars and stop signs. And they kept going until the job was done.
Similar stories emerged from parts of Florida after Hurricane Irma ripped its way up the length of my second-favorite state in which to fish. (Louisiana is third. Love you, Cajuns, but you don’t have snook).
When natural disaster strikes any coastal state or city, first responders include more than just firefighters, police and the National Guard. For each of those men and women in uniform, badge and waders, there are at least one and sometimes three outdoorsmen standing beside them.
Importantly, volunteers willing to be on the flooded front lines don’t have to await instructions or permission from higher ranks. They just go wherever their instincts and guts lead.
About now, I’d expect that skeptics are asking themselves what’s in it for people who risk their own safety and tear up their own equipment to retrieve soaked, hungry, frightened people who might even have ignored evacuation orders. Where’s the payoff? Who writes them checks? Who covers their costs?
Nobody, that’s who.
It’s all out-of-pocket, hundreds of dollars never to be recovered. They don’t ask for anything, and most wouldn’t take money if it were offered.
I’m frustrated and suffering mild survivor’s guilt for being at an age and physical state in which I’m not much use in a natural disaster. I can’t sling cases of water bottles. I can’t haul furniture upstairs, and I certainly couldn’t lift a grown man or woman into a boat or onto a truck.
What I can do is remind you, my readers, of the contributions made in the aftermaths of these two horrific storms by younger, stronger outdoorsmen and women than me. Personally, allow me to thank every one of you who walked or rode or paddled through water to help someone for nothing more than it was the right thing to do. That’s how we are raised—most of us, anyway.
Without so many unnamed heroes, as was pointed out by a couple of national columnists and reporters, the death toll of Harvey certainly would have been higher—potentially by a multiple of five or six or more.
On my radio show the weekend after Harvey finally exited our region, I said something about the “Texas Navy” being on patrol until the last stranded person was rescued from a rooftop. A listener suggested that the correct term was Cajun Navy.
I responded that whether you call it the Texas Navy, Cajun Navy or Redneck Navy, you’re talking about courageous, self-sacrificing people who are an increasingly rare breed in this country. I am thankful that a preponderance of them live in Texas.
Email Doug Pike at [email protected]