Civilians, strangers become heroes for Harvey victims

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HOUSTON — In the thick of disaster, help doesn’t always come from a helicopter or a rescuer in a uniform.

Sometimes, it’s a makeshift fleet of pickup trucks and jon boats, speeding toward danger as almost everyone else is trying to get out.

The Cajun Navy, the famous volunteer rescue group that formed in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, is mobilizing to Houston to deliver desperate residents from Harvey’s downpour.

Clyde Cain, who runs the groups social media, said the group started deploying people in the early hours of Monday morning.

“There are hundreds of volunteers and we’ve already made hundreds of rescues,” he said. “Our goal is to help people get out if they are trapped in their homes or apartments, get them to safety.”

As Katrina survivors and witnesses, these men and women know what it’s like to feel floodwaters rise around them with no guarantee of salvation.

In Houston, they join locals and other out-of-towners who are patrolling waterlogged streets, opening their doors to strangers in need, offering their time and talents and choosing to help others instead of seeking higher ground.

Austin Seth doesn’t even live in Dickinson, Texas. The Lake Jackson resident traveled an hour with his boat to help rescue flood victims in the Houston suburb because he saw a call for help on Facebook.

On Sunday, he said he already had rescued about a dozen people.

Lavandera also spoke to a man who said he came from Texas City to use his boat to help out in rescue efforts.

The man said he’d gotten calls from eight people for rescue.

“So we’re going to go and get them eight, then come on back and get some more,” he said.

Over the weekend, public entities around Houston put out a call for volunteers with boats, and people were quick to respond.

Even those who escaped flooded areas were quick to man their own boats and head back to help.

In a situation as ever-changing as a storm, it isn’t uncommon for reporters to find themselves on the other side of the news.

Jim McIngvale owns two furniture and mattress stores in the Houston area. They sit on high ground, so even though his city is paralyzed McIngvale isn’t worried about flooding.

In fact, he has opened up his stores to house anyone in need.

“We did this during Katrina and we had a couple hundred people staying for a couple days,” he said. “We have tons of mattress in our warehouse and we can provide with a blanket. They sleep with mattress with plastic on it, and recliners, and wherever they wanted. We have a restaurant inside the stores and we are feeding them for free.”

In Rockland, Texas, some 250 residents have taken shelter in an elementary school.

According to ABC News, the operation is manned mostly by young people who sleep in shifts and handle everything from leaks in the ceiling to making sure everyone in the building is comfortable and safe.

“At the end of the day, we’re family, you know, because it brings everyone together,” high school student Josh Campbell told ABC News.

So far, the group has not received any outside help. But like so many victims of Harvey’s flooding, they are making do with what they have — each other.