Atascosa County rescuers in action

Courtesy Photo
Evan Walker (left) assists a man and his wife off the second story roof of their home in Houston in August. Walker spent 24-36 hours rescuing people during Hurricane Harvey.

 

Erika Vela

Special Assignments Editor

A little more than a month ago, as Hurricane Harvey brought flooding to Texas’ Gulf Coast communities, three men from Atascosa County headed north to Houston to rescue those caught in the rising waters.

The Houston area saw over 50 inches of rain once Harvey had passed. While the rains were coming down endlessly, Evan Walker of Poteet, began to worry about his family members who live in Spring, just north of Houston. The water was beginning to rise up closer to their homes. Fortunately, the water began to recede, however, Walker’s thoughts were with others who weren’t as fortunate.

“I had it on my mind to go and do it. By about 10 o’ clock that morning I’d gotten some more information about some folks that needed help and they were still asking for people with boats,” said Walker.

He then called Pleasanton natives Kevin Aniol and Lee Ricks IV of Floresville. Without a real plan or method, they loaded a small boat, jumped in his truck and drove north to Houston to help those trapped in their flooded homes. That’s when they ended up looking on Facebook to see posts and found a way to help along with Louisiana Cajun Navy. The Cajun Navy, for short, is a group of good-hearted volunteers from Louisiana who use their canoes, kayaks and airboats to help perform water rescues. They originated after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and became an official organization during Louisiana’s great flood of 2016.

“You pulled into the CVS parking lot and it had a pretty steep curb down to the light and so you’d be launching boats down there from the parking lot. It was about four feet deep at the intersection,” said Walker.

As Walker, Aniol and Ricks cruised through streets, they found it odd to see the power on in areas as they floated just under bright streetlights. They saw people on rafts making attempts to help people out of their homes. Walker said many of the people they came across had difficulty coming to terms with the flooding and destruction that was taking place. The residents were overwhelmed and many in shock with their surroundings. It was a strange thing for Walker, Aniol and Ricks to see; and unlike anything they’d ever witnessed.

“The water was maybe knee-deep but the people that you’re helping, their baseline for normal was gone. They could have walked out a lot of places, but they needed somebody to walk in there and say, ‘You need two pair of clothes. Get your toothbrush and ask them do you have pets?’ Then, you have to start walking them through the steps because they lost all expectations of normal. The weirdest thing was to see people standing in knee-deep water at their front door and saying, ‘No, no. We’re fine. Everything’s okay.’ When you know it’s not,” said Walker.

To have difficulty accepting that everything they once knew as normal and watch it literally float away is an understandable reaction. What else would anyone do in their case? They witnessed several dynamics amongst the people. There were some devastated by their circumstances, but thrilled to be rescued with their loved ones. There were others who had a different priority-set. To Walker, that was the most impressive thing to see; the priorities and the joy that some people would have even in the worst time.

“There’s some people that got it. They were in a bad spot, and they got it. A man, wife and their dog, maybe tried to get a few other things. They were happy. Devastated by the whole thing, but they were happy because the things that mattered most to them were okay,” said Walker. “There was a couple in another neighborhood asking if we were there to move their stuff out…It was a lot more of a material-focused thing. It was odd. I understand it was tough to process what people were going through but it was a very strange dynamic between the two as far as what people really cherished in life.”

Walker, Aniol and Ricks were able to help many people, but did come across some people who refused to be helped. Many of the people in flooded areas believed they could wait it out. Once darkness settled outside, those people then became concerned because they were unable to see the danger outside anymore. That’s when people began to change their minds about staying and by that time they were unable to be helped.

“When you’re there, there’s no expectation for gratitude. Being there, it’s just such a tragic situation. The expectations for normal courtesy aren’t there and mainly because everything they know is gone…Everyone was just there to help. There were just some good Texans wanting to help and showing up to do something,” said Walker.

Walker, Aniol and Ricks assisted a team in rescuing over 50 people in a span of  24-36 hours before they left. They left feeling good about what they had accomplished, being able to help and confident more lives would be saved as even more help was arriving.

“My favorite thing that happened in all this terrible stuff was just getting to be a part of it. Sure, there were probably a lot of folks who pulled more people out of houses and made a bigger difference. At the end of the day, the Texans just showed up in numbers you wouldn’t believe…There’s no calm for my Texas pride right now. I’m so convinced that no other state would have handled it as well as we did and I’m just thrilled to be one of us,” said Walker.

 

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