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Flood of Humanity

Our neighborhoods during Harvey

Jennifer Oakley
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Gordon Center

RAIN AND CATS AND DOGS Southside Place volunteer firefighter Gordon Center (at left) rescued pets and their humans during the massive flooding. With him is a flooded resident, we are told, but we don't know his name. Do you?

Everyone has a hurricane story. Time is measured by the names of the storms. When Harvey hit, Houstonians braced. In a city used to flooding, what happened next was unfathomable: the most rainfall recorded in American history. What happened after that was not a surprise: neighbors helping neighbors in acts of selfless giving. Here are just some of the stories across our neighborhoods.

Tom King: Aug. 27, Meyerland

They had minutes to leave. Water had risen 18 inches inside Tom King’s home in just 20 minutes, and he was doing the math and the math did not look good. If the water kept rising, Tom calculated, he and his kids, Max, 11, and Kenna, 9, would soon be overtaken in their one-story house. When a friend called to say rescuers were near, Tom grabbed the children, their 14-year-old Weimaraner, Kaminsky, and rescue dog Luna. It took a dump truck and then a boat to get them to a Kroger parking lot. They waited. And then waited some more. With his cell phone down to 7 percent, Tom got a call. A friend could meet them with an inflatable raft, Tom borrowed a shopping cart for Kaminsky – “I didn’t think she was going to make it, but she did!” Then they all trudged a mile in the nonstop rain and swirling flood waters to where school friends from St. Vincent de Paul came over to rescue them. “One of the craziest days I have ever had,” recalls Tom, who was blown away by Max and Kenna’s bravery. “We are sad, as our home will be under a different roof for a long time, if not permanently. And at the same time, I am so incredibly grateful that we are alive.”

Gordon Center: Aug. 26, Southgate

Harvey was a different beast. As a volunteer firefighter with Southside Place Fire Department, Gordon Center is used to flooding. But this was new. High-water rescues began that Saturday night and kept on going through Monday. “As soon as we realized how bad it was, we started heading out to Holcombe,” says Gordon, who teaches history and coaches field hockey at St. John’s School. “It was absolutely surreal to have a jon boat and a dump truck to make our rescues.” They worked to save people and animals alike. “We took nurses to the Medical Center in a dump truck,” he says. “They had to get to work and we had no more room inside so one nurse stood in the back in the rain.” Gordon said he was amazed at how patient people were. “We were getting overwhelmed by people asking for help but were calmly waiting for help.” When he heard they were needed on the side streets off Holcombe, Gordon found himself in water over his head. “When we started checking in the townhomes, one guy said, ‘My dogs are in there,’ and I went and rescued a big dog named Molly.” By Monday, the efforts moved to restoration. Gordon took his kids, Anna, 14, and Thomas, 11, to Meyerland to help a co-worker. More than 100 showed up to help. When the work was done at that house, they went door to door, helping strangers. “It’s the world you decide to rebuild that becomes that history that is written, and I feel confident about the history that the city of Houston is writing for itself.”

Dr. Curtis Wray

ON THE FLY Dr. Curtis Wray was called up to help Memorial Hermann Northeast during Harvey. With the hospital surrounded by water, the only way there was via Memorial Hermann LifeFlight helicopter.

Tara and Curtis Wray: Aug. 28, West U

The hospital was encircled by water. Air was the only way in. Dr. Curtis Wray buckled up. “Honestly, it was my first flight in a helicopter, so I was a little apprehensive,” says Curtis, a surgical oncologist. “We were flown via Memorial Hermann LifeFlight helicopter to Memorial Hermann Northeast. We were there for 48 hours to provide emergency coverage.” Tara Wray was also on emergency call. While Curtis was helping the hospital in north Houston, his wife, Tara, was preparing to go to a different one. “I was one of three nurse practitioners on the Ride Out Team for the Department of Surgical Oncology at MD Anderson,” says Tara. “I was prepared to stay in the hospital for three to five days. We provided support and relief for our surgical fellows so they could return home or take a break so that they could check on damage to their own homes.”  “So many experienced significant loss during the storm, and I was just glad to be able to help in some way,” says Curtis.

Residents of Hudson Forest

WEATHERING THE STORM Residents of Hudson Forest in Memorial are rescued via air boat when their homes flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Heather Shuvalov took this photo from the second story of her neighbor’s house as she was being rescued. (Photo: Heather Shuvalov)

Chris Beavers: Aug. 28, Hudson Forest

The sound was deafening. But Chris Beavers was glad to hear it. Neighbors at the back of his subdivision had the bayou roaring into their homes. He needed a boat. Chris, a media strategist, called Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack. Help came in the form of an airboat, propelled by that powerfully loud engine. “I had a laminated map of the neighborhood, and we made eight trips. We pulled out 50 people. There were people coming out of second floors, over railings. We had all ages from some pre-schoolers up to extremely elderly people and the nurses who take care of them. They were extremely grateful. Even the pilot said, ‘These are the nicest people I have ever encountered.’ You just do what you have to do. You help your neighbors.” Chris helped rescue neighbors he had never met: “My line all afternoon was: ‘I would rather meet you on Halloween!’”

Keesha Organ: Aug. 29, Southside Place

All it took was an email. Keesha Organ sent it to every family that her boys, Tres,13, and Tate, 10, had ever played baseball, football or basketball with. The subject line read: “Harvey Impact – Rally the Troops.” Keesha and husband Robby had heard about Tom King in Meyerland and about Sandra and Randy Stavinoha’s Bellaire home flooding. “We had an army of people who dropped everything to walk into these people’s homes,” says Keesha. “There is strength in numbers, and I am inspired by humanity in this crisis.” Keesha sent a list of needed supplies (everything from bleach to brooms and sheetrock knives) and said anyone over the age of 10 could help. “We showed up, and we moved all the furniture out, pulled out all the carpets and boxed up the kitchen. Then we started cutting sheetrock, pulling insulation, pulling up floors.”  Keesha says that in 12 hours, more than 100 people show up to work. “That’s the blessing of our friends and folks we have the pleasure of connecting with – it may have started with a baseball game or a football game, but it turns into an extended family. I saw all the good in people. I have seen God’s blessing in this process”

Dr. Asif Ali with medical students

DOCTOR’S ORDERS Dr. Asif Ali, in black scrubs, stands with a group of medical students after helping Harvey evacuees at NRG. 

Asif Ali: Aug. 30, West U

He grabbed his doctor’s bag. Dr. Asif Ali knew the evacuees would need help. “I got blood pressure and diabetes meds and also items for stomach pains, constipation and breathing treatments,” says Asif, a cardiologist. “I grabbed my stethoscope and blood pressure machines and just got going.” There was no shortage of needs when he went to Mattress Mack’s furniture showroom. “There were people with blood pressures over 200, people with breathing issues. There were people with cuts and bruises, and I sutured someone’s chin.” Next, Asif went to the George R. Brown Convention Center. “We probably saw 200-300 patients an hour at the peak. All kinds of issues:  post-traumatic stress disorder, a lot of coughs, colds, flu-like systems from being in that water. It was like a MASH unit. People were very grateful to the responders. We are a very accepting city for all races, religions and creeds. That’s why people stay. People will rebuild. I think everyone will forever remember where they were and what they did when Harvey hit.”

Julia Scruggs: Aug. 31, Southside Place

Two stranded animals were in need. Julia Scruggs, a recent Texas A&M University graduate, had to move fast. She had gotten the call that there were baby river otters near Little Cypress Creek. Julia asked her sister, Heather Scruggs Waters, to join her for the volunteer mission. Turns out, they were actually baby beavers, born at the height of Harvey. “The babies were reunited for the first time when I was there,” says Julia, who works for the Houston Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. “They instantly cuddled with each other. It is very important for their health for them to have that bonding.” Julia learned how one beaver had been discovered. “A family had gone outside to look at the flooding, and they saw a little brown thing clinging for dear life onto their fence. What a hard way to start your life.” Julia transported the beavers carefully to the to the Wildlife Center of Texas in Memorial, where she has volunteered for the past six years. “I have a deepened calling to serve our community as well as our wildlife,” says Julia. “It was important to me to help these animals after the storm. Their ecosystem is so important. The animals need us.”

Houston Symphony's Fidelis String Quartet

STRIKING A CHORD The Houston Symphony's Fidelis String Quartet, comprised of violinists Rodica Gonzalez, Mihaela Frusina, violist Wei Jiang and cellist Jeffrey Butler, performed for evacuees at the George R. Brown Convention Center. 

Sherry Cheng and Wei Jiang: Sept. 1, Autumn Oaks

They connected through music. Quietly, carrying their instruments into the George R. Brown Convention Center, they set up in a corner. Hall E housed the cafeteria, and thousands of evacuees were getting a warm meal. The Houston Symphony's Fidelis String Quartet, with violinists Rodica Gonzalez, Mihaela Frusina, violist Wei Jiang and cellist Jeffrey Butler, began to play. The hall filled with Bach, Mozart and Gershwin. Folks appeared in waves. “Children wanted to touch our instruments.” recalls Sherry, a music educator, whose husband is violist Wei Jiang. “The music was able to bring some beauty to some otherwise rough times.” Wei says, “We just wanted to do something to be of help to people. Music is what we do best. I felt connected to the people we played for. Music touches the human in all of us.” “The people never wanted us to leave, and the music was able to bring some beauty to some otherwise rough times,” says Sherry. “Everybody was affected by Harvey, and it is amazing how the city came together. I love Houston. We have a can-do spirit. Everybody wants to do something. We just felt like music is our skill, and it is what we can contribute.”

Tom King: Sept 7, Meyerland

Tom King surveys his house. One week after the flood, it is still but for the whir of fans and dehumidifiers. “I choose to be optimistic and positive,” he says softly, looking at the empty shell of his home. “In the flood, I lost something that was very, very precious to me. It was a flash drive of family videos when my wife Karlyn was alive. Karlyn and I bought this house together. The day we closed was the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She passed 14 months later. If I had to save one thing, outside of my children, it would be that flash drive. I have it, but that thing got damaged.” He worries he will never see the images again. He doesn’t know how to get it repaired. “I’ve got lots of love for this city,” he says, his blue eyes showing the wear of the past week. “It’s looking up. It helps when you feel like you’re drowning, and all of a sudden you have 100 people there inching you along.”

Editor’s note: If you have a Harvey tale to share, or people to thank, you’re invited to a comment below.

  • Gordon Center, Dr. Jim Schwartz

    IN DEEP WATER Southside Place Volunteer Firefighter Gordon Center helped rescue Dr. Jim Schwartz from flooding at his home in Old Braeswood on Aug. 27.

  • Beavers

    SAVING GRACE Julia Scruggs rescued a pair of baby beavers who were stranded during Hurricane Harvey.

  • Boys helping clean up

    A CLEAN SWEEP A group of 10-year-old boys organized by Keesha Organ helps clean up Tom King’s home after it was flooded by Harvey.

  • Gordon Center, Dr. Jim Schwartz
  • Beavers
  • Boys helping clean up

More photos

Gordon Center, Dr. Jim Schwartz

IN DEEP WATER Southside Place Volunteer Firefighter Gordon Center helped rescue Dr. Jim Schwartz from flooding at his home in Old Braeswood on Aug. 27.

Beavers

SAVING GRACE Julia Scruggs rescued a pair of baby beavers who were stranded during Hurricane Harvey.

Boys helping clean up

A CLEAN SWEEP A group of 10-year-old boys organized by Keesha Organ helps clean up Tom King’s home after it was flooded by Harvey.

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