Texans become heroes as Harvey rages

Locals took to boats and opened up their homes as thousands evacuated from the state's coast.

Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston. CREDIT: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston. CREDIT: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

As one of the worst storms in modern U.S. history continues to devastate Texas, local residents are stepping up to help each other in heartwarming and creative ways.

Hurricane Harvey, now a tropical storm, hit Texas on Friday evening. The storm, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, has wrought destruction across the state, killing at least eight people and leaving more than 30,000 without long-term shelter. The damage could take years to repair, with more rainfall expected as the week progresses—something that sent beleaguered residents fleeing from their homes.

But while scenes of heartbreak play out across the state’s southeastern coast, there are also images of hope.

Across social media, users have posted photos and videos of residents pitching in. Massive flooding means many residents are unable to leave—and are trapped in precarious locations. With cars rendered virtually useless, boats have become essential, prompting scores of good Samaritans to don life vests and jump into their own vessels over the weekend in order to rescue those unable to reach safety.

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Abe Minor, a UPS worker, told ABC’s Good Morning America that he was initially using his nephew’s boat to help friends before he realized others needed assistance.

“People were screaming out, ‘Help, help, help,’ and you know, ‘We’ll come back for you. We’ll come back for you,’” Minor said. “One turned to two, two turned to three, three turned to four, next thing you know there’s 20 different people you’ve rescued, along with their animals.”

Across the region, other Texans reported similar stories. In one video uploaded to Twitter, a resident told area newsman Austin Kellerman that he was taking his boat out into flooded areas to “try to save some lives.” In a separate tweet, a local named Oscar offered to help anyone stranded in neighboring areas.

Another Houston resident, Diane Alston, tweeted images of locals rallying together across the city to help one another. “We’re all out here helping these people in this neighborhood get out,” she wrote. “People came with boats, supplies. People giving rides.”

While some offered boats, others opened their homes. In Austin and San Antonio, where rain was heavy but damage minimal, residents welcomed those fleeing Houston and other areas. Many posted on Twitter and Facebook offering evacuees a place to stay. Some did so with additional encouragement: as the storm bore down, AirBnB offered hosts the opportunity to list their rooms for free in order to maximize the availability of shelter. Many took them up on that offer, including 25-year-old Alexander Zub, who lives in Austin.

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I actually had a reservation request this morning for [tonight], a young couple who were on a road trip, on their way back to Houston,” Zub told ThinkProgress. “Since a lot of major roads in Houston are closed, they decided to wait a couple of nights in Austin.”

While the couple ultimately decided to stay elsewhere with friends, Zub said his home is still listed and he is more than happy to host anyone in need.

“I hope as many evacuees as possible know about the fact that they can have free temporary housing in Austin and San Antonio,” he said.

Others took to social media to lend a hand. Shea Serrano, a staff writer for The Ringer and a Houston resident, retweeted numerous calls for help in an effort to draw attention to the requests and direct officials and those with boats towards those who were left stranded. In response to another Twitter user asking if Serrano’s family needed assistance themselves, he responded that his family was fine, and to “just pass along whatever you were gonna offer us to someone else” in more need.

Local companies, like famed grocery store H-E-B and Texas burger chain Whataburger, also earned praise from Texans as they stepped up to provide residents with resources and supplies.

While all of the efforts have been helpful, some have directly saved lives. One of the more dramatic moments during Harvey came when KHOU reporter Brandi Smith was broadcasting from North Houston’s beltway. After noticing a tractor trailer filling with water while its driver was still inside, Smith called out to the driver, urging him to climb on the roof of his vehicle to safety. As a Harris County Sheriff’s Office truck towing a boat passed, Smith flagged it down in an effort to get help for the driver, while apologizing to viewers for the yelling.

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“There is water filling his cab and I’m trying not to break your eardrums as I scream,” Smith explained. She then called to the driver, “Sir, there is a boat here!”

After he was pulled to safety, the man thanked Smith profusely. “I just thank God that you all were here to put me back on land safely,” he told her.