Bayou City

Houston's Real Heroes of Harvey...and One Goat

A Texas National Guard rescue operation during this week's flooding catastrophe.
A Texas National Guard rescue operation during this week's flooding catastrophe. Texas National Guard via Flickr

Looking back to a week ago, it's hard to believe the level of devastation that Hurricane Harvey has unleashed on the Texas Gulf Coast and the Greater Houston area. A storm no one seemed that concerned about, that didn't seem like it could escalate into the monster it has — a storm with a name that sounded like it belonged to some slightly dorky old guy, and not a merciless tropical nightmare that could flood Houston and drop nearly 50 inches of rain over several days. A week ago none of this seemed possible, but today, as residents of the city and surrounding area scramble to save lives and make sense of everything that has happened, it's become clear that this nightmare has changed Houston forever. Harvey is one for the record books, and has permanently altered many of our perceptions of “just how bad a storm can be.”

It's now days into this, and many of us are still facing terrible losses and challenges from this disaster. Large parts of the city are still under water, homes are flooded, people are displaced, and the eventual toll of this storm is still unknown. If there has been one bright spot (and we need any silver lining available), it's seeing people rise to the occasion of helping others in need. These heroes include emergency personnel, local celebrities, and countless “regular folks” who decided they would do their best to help those in need. We’ll probably never know the names of everyone who went above and beyond during this terrible storm and flood, but here are a few who deserve special mention — and at least one heel who deserves attention too.

While reporting live at Beltway 8 and the Hardy Tollroad, KHOU cameraman Mario Sandoval noticed a truck driver was trapped in his vehicle while flood waters rushed around him. Brandi Smith flagged down passing sheriff deputies who were able to rescue the driver — as her station was getting knocked off the air due to water surging through its studio. A great example of several people working together to help someone in desperate need. Brandi Smith later gave all credit to Sandoval and the sheriff deputies, but her efforts were part of the rescue too.

Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt set up a fundraiser for victims of Harvey, leading with $100,000 of his own money. Along with large contributions from other sports stars and regular citizens, the fund has surpassed $4 million as of Tuesday, and incredible amount to go towards hurricane relief. Efforts such as his are part of the reason Houston is special. We rally together to help others when things get rough. I don't even like football. But my hat’s off to you, Mr. Watt.
Evacuating a city the size of Houston is not some simple feat — it's complicated, messy, and dangerous. After the horror show many of us experienced trying to evacuate for Rita, an evacuation that resulted in a high number of deaths, any local official trying to empty the fourth-largest city in America is going to approach that decision very, very cautiously. While media from outside the area questioned the decision to not order an evacuation, Turner’s choice probably made what was going to be a bad situation no matter what, less terrible for many. We've all seen photos of Houston freeways completely submerged in floodwater. Now imagine that scenario with thousands of cars stuck on those same freeways, gridlocked by people trying to evacuate.

Sick of hearing people from other places criticize Houston for not evacuating, Kam Franklin, powerhouse singer of Gulf Coast Soul engine The Suffers, had enough. She sent out a volley of withering tweets explaining exactly why those people should STFU, simultaneously explaining the big picture to people who might not understand it, and venting some good old-fashioned Houston whoopass at fools who shouldn't try kicking us while we’re down.

A loose conglomerate of Louisianan dudes who came together to help rescue people after last year's horrible flooding in Baton Rouge, once it became clear official efforts were lacking, the “Cajun Navy” likewise came to Houston's aid during Harvey. They saved at least one elderly woman who was floating in floodwater, and quite possibly many other folks. Our own local variation — teams of regular citizens in john boats or jacked-up trucks, going into deep water to save people and pets, have also been widely reported. Each of these brave rescuers are heroes, and while we may never know most of their names, I salute them.

If you'd ever told me that I'd get misty-eyed thinking about Mattress Mack, I would've laughed in your face, but local celebrity furniture mogul Jim McIngvale showed he knows what makes Houston great. He generously opened up his stores as shelters for people (and their pets) displaced by the storm, providing refuge and food. He standouts as one of the true local heroes who emerged during Harvey, in sharp contrast to someone else…

Wow, Joel Osteen. Many have criticized you and your brand of prosperity gospel “faith,” and probably for very good reason. Your church is a former concert and sports arena, you live in a $10 million mansion, and claim to be a religious leader. But what did we get from you while this disaster unfolded in the community around us? Tweets to pray for hurricane victims. Meanwhile your enormous “church” was not made available to storm victims until you were publicly shamed for your lack of effort on social media. Lakewood claimed flooding, mostly underground, had prevented its doors from opening immediately — contrary to the abundance of social-media video making the rounds — and it did begin accepting donations and refugees Tuesday afternoon. That may not have been too late to help out (it never is), but for Osteen, it was far too late to save face.

Other Non-Heroes of Note:
  • The dirtbags who allegedly shot at members of the Cajun Navy.

  • The A-holes who tied their pets up, leaving them to possibly drown after leaving their homes. I hope you all suffer (sorry, I'm not a saint).

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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.