COASTAL FORECAST: Rockport

COASTAL FORECAST: Aransas to Corpus
December 25, 2017
COASTAL FOCUS: Upper Mid Coast –
December 25, 2017

The Eye Of Tears

O ur refuge would be  Spicewood, Texas; it’s our old home place and we had been trying to sell it for a while. Now I completely understood why I had turned down offers from potential buyers. It would be a refuge for us in the coming days.

The storm’s tracking speed had been predicted to be slow, but as Lisa and I packed up that early morning it accelerated. We hurriedly packed what we needed, but not at all what we had planned. There was just no time.

Several days before, we—or rather I— had decided to ride Harvey out. A CAT 1 in my mind was very doable. We get Northers almost that strong, but this storm, having been fed by the warm eddies of the Gulf, was just revving up like a dragster on nitromethane.

As we drove out of town I recall holding my wife’s hand for what seemed like the entire trip to our old homestead—a reminder what really mattered was in the truck with me.

As the day progressed, the predictions were anything but good. Harvey was speeding up. Its winds were in excess of 85mph and getting stronger. The prediction would prove to be anything but accurate, which held true for the aftermath reports as well.

This storm was not playing by the rules, terms like “rare” and “worrisome” were used prolifically to describe its impending landfall. Upper level trade winds that normally steer these storms were collapsing and had a wide window of re-intensification.

The best minds in the business such as the NHC and even European model scientists were arguing as to its track, its intensity, and its route over the next 72 hours. The truth is they didn’t have a clue what this monster was going to do.

Predictions varied: HWRF, LGEM, COAMPS-TC, HMON, and DSHIPS—oscillated between category 1, 3 or 4 for Harvey’s landfall. The HMON model was the most aggressive, predicting Harvey would max out at Category 4 strength with a 924 mb central pressure.

However, the HMON had Harvey with a 966 mb pressure at 2 pm EDT Thursday, although the actual pressure was 979 mb. So, the HMON forecast was probably overdone.

The HWRF model was the most conservative, predicting Harvey would max out as a Category 1. The lack of clear direction gave the people living in Harvey’s path the feeling we were on our own, trusting our own judgment or instincts. To say it was extremely confusing is a gross understatement. 

The time frame from August 25 through the night of August 26 were the longest hours of my life. Harvey slowed down just off the coast line, picked up some warmly charged deep water. Then it exploded into a CAT4 in the late evening of August 25.

During the early evening, its course had a 70 percent prediction of hitting Rockport. At this point it was too little, too late. Whatever purpose Harvey would have was now to be served.

Harvey’s hell would take residence in and around Rockport. My family and friends were petrified, for the last word they got from me was we were staying, having no clue we were safe in Spicewood.

I was focused on Harvey, its track, its intensity, so was not answering my phone or text messages. This was a mistake that caused undue worry for my loved ones and friends. Ardia and Roy Neves, the owners of Texas Fish & Game magazine, called to check on me, and I could hear the worry in their voices. They will never know how much that meant to me.

Lisa and I spent the night of August 25 and the day of August 26 with our hearts breaking as Harvey seemed to stall over our town. My thoughts were with my neighbors who chose to sta,y and I was wishing I had hog tied them and made them leave. We truly thought they would perish in the wake of this monster.

At 3:45 a.m., the morning of August 26, an image appeared on my NHC/NOAA screen. It was a satellite image of the storm, now with the eye directly over the LBJ causeway. Our home, Lamar and Holiday Beach were now on the northeast side in the eye wall, the worst side of a hurricane to be in. In the center of the image in the middle of the eye the number 4 appeared to signify Harvey was now a CAT4.

I simply laid my head down and wept, wishing I had done more to warn our neighbors. I felt the arms of my wife Lisa hug me, and she said “Honey, I think it’s all gone.”

I knew in my heart she was right. Nothing on this earth could withstand the storm surge predicted for the area—7 to 12 feet.

Horrifying tornadoes were already being reported. In the end, it was calculated that more than 120 had touched down in the Rockport area.

All reports during the height of the storm were hearsay. Still, it was all we had. I called the County Commissioner, a good friend of ours, to see if she was okay and to get any information. She sought refuge in McAllen, but had no other news since communication out of Rockport was nonexistent.

In the span of 45 minutes an eight-level deep emergency plan for Rockport had been wiped off the map. Cell phones were useless. Those individuals who stayed were simply trying to find a way to survive. One satellite phone was working, and the report was that everything was gone, nothing was left.

Harvey, now north of Rockport, wasn’t done. It now unleashed its fury on Refugio and Victoria and anyone in the way. Victoria, where some dear friends live and own a business, was hammered with 90 plus mph winds for more than eight hours. Far from finished,

Harvey now moved southeasterly as if it were seeking its energy source in the Gulf of Mexico. Landfall had weakened Harvey’s winds, but it was saving its sucker punch for Houston.

Harvey steamed back into the Gulf, picked up winds 45 to 50 mph, and sucked up moisture from a warm Gulf of Mexico. Now downgraded to a tropical storm, Harvey turned northeast where it would stage its final cruel dance on Houston, depositing more than 50 inches of rain. Their devastation is another whole story in itself.

Patience is not my best quality, in fact I have very little. Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way is pretty much how I rock. Statements were issued for residents NOT to return to Rockport for at least a week and maybe more.

Our concern was for our neighbors—were they okay? We called everyone we know, using all resources—including every official— to no avail. There simply was no open communication going either direction. It was agonizing. I had officials outside the area calling me asking what I knew.

That Saturday, after lengthy calls and texts with neighbors who had fled the area we’d had enough. I said to Lisa “What do we have to lose? Let’s go see if we can help or at least get word out to those concerned.”

We would do a turnaround drive on Sunday, down and back, in an attempt to find our friends and assess the situation. We coordinated with the son of our next-door neighbor. He and his wife met us outside of Austin, and we caravanned southward in our 4WD trucks.

We were told the National Guard had the area closed off and no one was being allowed to enter, I didn’t care, It was better than sitting and worrying. At the very least we could report “you can’t get in the area.” At best, we’d find our friends and see whether our neighborhood was still standing. We packed water, chainsaws, tools and gas cans full of gas.

The whole drive we were on pins and needles. Our route was predetermined, but as we made our way closer most roads were closed with barriers and more probably should have been.

We combined the drivetexas.org website and an old-fashioned paper map of Texas to find open roads. We took some back roads and got within 30 miles, but all roads were posted closed.

Luckily, a fellow guide I know showed up pulling his boat, He said he had heard there was a way in, but it was rough going with a lot of debris and live power lines across roads. He said it might be doable. (I must say that should you be faced with such a disaster, it is best to wait until roads are opened and the area made safe—unless it’s a life or death situation or you’re seeking loved ones.)

We took a deep breath and consulted with the couple driving with us, then proceeded to drive over and around debris and power lines to slowly make our way closer to the area. 

I have seen devastation before. This is not my first experience, but this was on a much larger scale. From Cuero onward it defied description.

Nothing was the same and maybe, I thought, never would be. We climbed over trees and four-wheeled through mud. It got worse the closer we got to the coast. Cattle and wildlife seeking refuge from the storm surge either drowned or were pummeled to death by debris in the 150-plus mph winds.

There was no National Guard. Maybe they were coming, or maybe it was said in hope of keeping people out. Snakes were everywhere, seeking high ground from the water. On Hwy 35 coming from the north, we made it into the Holiday Beach area.

It looked like a bomb went off—miles of debris in every direction. All the main roads were sealed off by debris, but we knew of a back way into our area of Lamar.

After moving some debris, we made it to the Lamar Volunteer Fire Department. They were trying to restore power through the diesel generators they had. They told us they had not seen Lamar Beach Road, it was simply too hard to get to.

Thousands of downed oak trees, power poles, dead animals, parts of houses/buildings were everywhere. As we drove we both had tears flowing down our cheeks; they would not stop over the weeks to come. We saw few people. Those we did see had tears of their own. All looked to be in shock, not knowing what to do.

Driving toward the water we saw a corner of the backside of a blue home. It seemed out of place. It couldn’t be our home because all the normal landmarks were missing.

We realized Harvey had changed the landscape. It was our home, and it was standing like a beacon in the midst of the devastation. I can’t say I have ever had a soulful cry, but I did that day. Our home had been spared, and instantly we both knew why. Immediately we checked on our neighbors and after much investigation, we found them alive. Shaken, but alive!

We looked to their needs, then entered our home. Around our home and cottage, we had very little storm surge. I can’t explain why at this point. Based on the science we should have gotten a major influx of water, but miraculously we were spared.

It’s hard to know how to feel about it because most of our neighbors lost everything—their homes, their belongings, and their way of life. I immediately hit my knees and said, “Lord tell me how I can help.”

“You know how to help, now get off your knees and get busy!” came the reply.

Luckily, I learned the building trade from my dad, so I know electrical; I know plumbing; I have used generators; I have worked on water wells

I guess I am jack of all trades and master of none. I came to realize this is what was needed. My brother was an electrical line designer and foreman for an electrical co-op. I hadI learned a lot from him about power lines and the power grids. This would save my life and others in the weeks to come.

Lisa’s gifts are multifaceted as well. She is a coordination machine and can see things that I don’t. This served us well over the hard weeks ahead.

Our priorities had changed literally overnight. What was needed was running water, food, and some form of electrical power.

The area was beyond dangerous, ruptured 500-gallon-plus propane tanks were leaking, power lines still dancing, spewing sparks.

Most homes in the immediate area were on water wells, but the only thing remaining was the wire sticking up out of the hole. Septic tanks are the norm, but most didn’t work because the ground was saturated—so no flushing, and even if you could flush there was no water.

Lisa and I quickly put a plan in place. There would be little to no help for at least a week in our area. Rockport across the causeway was the center of focus and on the national news, but little or no relief would be coming to Lamar or Holiday Beach.

One radio announcer even said the eye of Harvey went over an unpopulated area so most of the devastation was of little impact to people. After a phone call, he was quickly set straight!

Our job was to meet basic needs and to put Lamar and Holiday Beach on the radar screen. Generators were needed badly, and the skills to properly hook them up. An improperly connected generator can back feed through power lines and transformers, electrocuting linemen trying to repair electrical services.

Over the next month, through help of our families and friends, organizations were formed such as Lamar Strong, Rockport Strong, Holiday Beach Strong etc.

My daughters started relief drives using their homes in Johnson City as collection points. Then they drove tons of relief supplies to Lamar, Holiday Beach and Rockport themselves.

They ran a distribution center out of our cottage where people could come by and get water, food, flash lights, bug spray etc. as they needed it. They got the word out, and we had people offering help from as far away as Alaska.

A family from Wichita Falls pulled a travel trailer down. It was outfitted with cookers, and they served hot meals three times a day. My clients were offering any form of help we needed. One guy said, “Captain Mac, tell me how much you need.”

I mostly was on the ground, hooking generators up and piecing water wells back together so people could take a bath from time to time and not have to live in the dark. Gas was in short supply, and people would show up with gas cans full of fuel for chainsaws, vehicles, generators. One client sent me a text “take that deposit I gave you for a fishing trip and please donate it to a good cause”!

Let me apologize for the length of this article. I could write ten more pages on the outpouring of support we received. The drives my daughters and friends put together with churches and organizations literally had U-Haul truckloads of relief items showing up at our door step.

For the first 10 days and every day after, it was Texans helping Texans. There is a special bond here in this state I’ve never found anywhere else.

I hope saying this doesn’t take away from the generosity and caring we received from the rest of our great nation, for it was truly miraculous. However, when the chips are down and the enemy has you surrounded, Texans will be there.

There were heroic acts that saved people. Individuals who—not giving from their excess—gave from their own needs to help a neighbor.

We were thirsty, hungry, no place to bathe. It was hot with no way to cool off. The stench of death and rotting perishables was in the air. You couldn’t escape the smell, and the bugs; snakes and mosquitos were feeding on us.

We knew the people of this nation would come to help, but a week in those conditions was like a year. Yet, when it got the darkest and the hardest, a neighbor was there to hold a light, offer a bottle of water or share their food with you. Even those folks who didn’t much care for each other were there for one another.

It is true—Rockport and the surrounding area may never be the same, but maybe that’s a good thing. Harvey may have been spawned from the depths of hell, but amidst the destruction and devastation something miraculous has arisen—a special closeness between neighbors and a rebirth of faith in mankind.

It was something this writer really needed. I am proud to be an American where I’ve rediscovered that in the deepest parts of their hearts our people still care greatly for one another.

A high note of praise: The linemen from across this state and across the nation are our heroes. These guys and gals worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We were told it would take months to restore power to our area because all the major substations were crushed/mangled. Yet, because of their efforts we had power restored in 17 days. I will think of them every time I turn on a light switch.

A special shout out to County Commissioner Betty Stiles for her tireless work during our storm, to Steve for helping so many get water, to Shauna for finding so many volunteers, to Keely for the gasoline and the generator, to Lynn for coming back again, again, and again to cut trees, to Wendy for gathering list upon list of those in need, to Ronny and Tracy for feeding so many, to Ed and Cheryl for sharpening chainsaw chains free of charge, to Mark and crew for the delicious burgers, to Pat for her help with the LVFD, to Anna for staffing the Holiday Beach donation center, to Chhay and Christian for their free tarp work, to Dana for the chicken, and to the countless individuals who came to our aid. While I cannot call you all by name, I am forever grateful for your kindness and compassion. Our thoughts and prayers are with those families who lost loved ones here in the area trying to help us.

I would like to say a special thank you to my family and especially my wife Lisa who, through the hardest parts of this ordeal, was there for me through the hardest parts of this ordeal. It’s easy to be strong when you are loved by such special people. I wish all a disaster-free New Year!

I realize this is an unconventional article, but for us it’s an unconventional time. Harvey, I have a few words for you. We may be down and hurting, but we still smile, and we will be back on our feet again so help us God!

As I write this it’s November 1. I mention the time frame so anglers know as accurately as possible what condition our bays are in and how the fishing is.

Our bays are rebounding at a tremendous rate. The fishing is not just good, it is truly phenomenal. The problem is getting bait because the bait stands are either gone or badly damaged. Again, this is being addressed as quickly as humanly possible. A few have opened but have limited amounts of bait.

This is cast net heaven, so if you’re gonna come fishing, either throw artificials or know or learn how to use a cast net. The guides I speak with daily say almost any live bait now works well, be it finger mullet, live shrimp, mud minnows, piggy perch etc. Don’t be choosy, they are all catching fish.

Cut bait is almost as effective, so don’t turn away from that either. One avid angler (not a guide) told me the fish are hitting everything that hits the water. The red bite right now is the best I’ve seen in ten years!

Boat ramps can get quickly congested as the few that are open get crowded so patience is truly a virtue. Sportsmen and sportswomen, please understand. We are going through a hard time now, so nerves are frazzled, people are tired and some are grumpy. Acts of random kindness are deeply appreciated. 

For the most part, the waterways are clear now. Go slow and be cautious as some hazards are still showing their ugly heads. We are trying to mark them, but it’s going to take a while. Cleanup crews as well as service workers who are busy restoring amenities take precedence over launching a boat.

Here’s Wishing You Tight Lines Bent Poles and Plenty of Bait! 

Contact Capt. Mac Gable at
Mac Attack Guide Service,
512-809-2681, 361-790-9601

   

 

Email Capt. Mac Gable at [email protected] 

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