My 50 Hours With Harvey

My 50 Hours With Harvey

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Beautiful sunny day before Hurricane Harvey.

Dear Family & Friends, this is Jerry Gallegos. We lost our house despite it being situated on some of the highest ground in Bevil Oaks and supposedly NOT being in a “flood zone” (my wife and I asked when we bought the house 2 years ago).

The family left on Monday for town (Beaumont) during the mandatory evacuation. I stayed behind to take care of our pets and try to save our stuff – IF needed (at the time the predictions were that the high water level would be 2 ft below the record flood of 1994, during which I surprisingly found out that morning that our house had indeed flooded about 9″ according to our neighbor, Debbie). But I awoke Tues morn at 0500 to find the water literally at my doorstep.

Needless to say, I immediately went into overdrive & started with the stuff on the floor & bottom drawers & moving them up a level at a time. Throughout the day, I checked in with my wife (and no one else as I regrettably had to tell my Dad in just a few seconds that I didn’t have time to talk with him) and would at the same time check the National Weather Service’s online Pine Island Bayou automated flood gauge and projected flood crest predictions every couple hours to determine how high I needed to keep moving stuff up.

I cut the power to the house sometime before 0900 when the water started lapping at the bottom of the outlets – I didn’t want to electrocute myself or the dogs! BTW, until it got higher, the dogs thought it was fun to have an indoor swimming pool! The cats hated it, of course 🙂 However, when I went upstairs, I found that my daughter Ashley’s room still had power! Obviously, the wiring in this house is suspect as I had already cut the main power switch… But I took advantage of the situation and plugged my Ohmstede company iPhone in her room & thought this will be great! – I’ll ride out the flood with my pets watching Netflix movies and Amazon Prime 🙂 But it was not to be… :\

Flood waters almost up to outlets.

Sometime in the early afternoon when the water was just above knee-high, I finally lost all power. I made one last voice call to Deverie and told her I was shutting the phone off for extended periods to conserve battery life as I had not been able to make provisions for a method to charge it – like removing a car battery, which would’ve been smart if I had had the time to do it… I told Deverie that we would switch to communicating only by text to use up less battery life and that I couldn’t guarantee when I would contact her again as I had no way to tell time.

I spent all of Tues just barely snatching my family’s stuff from the rising water, but continually losing them to the ever-rising bayou. I made a bed on the floor of Ashley’s room of some couch cushions and laid down with my feet flat on the floor so I could feel any water and make a timely escape to the roof if it came to that. I finally crawled in bed just before midnight without so much as a couple 2-minute rest periods – it was a long adrenaline-fueled day (well, I did eat a couple rice krispy treats).

To make a long story a little bit shorter (leaving out a lot of details – like the snake I accidentally let into the house and is still there; rescuing Rosie, my daughter Amber’s cat that I happened to see go under the water heater; and getting mugged as a lifeboat for dozens of spiders, fireants, and other assorted creepy-crawlies during one of the few times I went outside to take the trash out), the high water predictions all turned out to be false, as I realized the next morning 🙁

I didn’t really sleep well with the occasional and discomforting sounds of crashing noises downstairs and the continual sound of wind and rain, but I did get some much-needed rest.

When I awoke at 3 am Wed morning, I found the water to be already 8″ higher than the predicted “future” crest from only 4 hrs prior!!! (The crest was always predicted to be anywhere from 12 to 24 hours in the future from the time I would check it). I realized then that almost all of what I had done the day prior was for naught – as very little of what I incessantly moved up turned out to be not high enough! I was heartbroken because the majority of my prior day’s efforts were focused on “saving” the little things I thought were important to each of my wife & kids. But that moment of sadness only lasted for an instant as my survival instinct immediately took over since I could see that very soon I would no longer be able to go downstairs at all.

I put on my chest-high waders and ventured downstairs to try to recover any flashlights and food I could find. All day Tues I had worn just swim trunks, water shoes & a t-shirt. I was tired of being wet – and thinking about that snake still lurking in the darkness 😮

I was again in overdrive with only a little more than an hour before the water would be too high for my waders. I was able to get about 3 or 4 loads of dry goods, utensils, my wife’s Essential Oils and one bottle of wine 😉 And by the time I made the fourth trip an hour and a half later (including one scary venture into the deeper garage where I had to use a chair to stand on to get to the only still dry camping light I knew of), I was standing on my tip toes to keep water from coming into my waders at the armpits. I also managed to save a still working regulator clock that wasn’t water-logged yet. It was rather comforting to find something other than my phone that was still working…

 

At 0430, I went out on the roof through my son Jake’s window to take care of nature and take a rain shower. It was eerily quiet and dark standing on the roof in the middle of the neighborhood with not a single light visible (except for what appeared to be the distant glow of Beaumont reflecting from the rain clouds) and only the gentle sounds of moving water punctuated by thunder and heavy wind gusts. From my texts with Deverie, I knew that Harvey had moved east by then, but also knew that it could still spawn tornados.

When I went back in, I turned my phone back on and asked my wife to check for any forecasts of tornados. By now, I also knew that there were still others like me that had stayed in the neighborhood. I had heard the sound of boats frequently throughout the day on Tuesday, but I don’t think one came up to the end of my street on Tuesday – or at least I didn’t see one since I was soooo busy and I had kept all the doors and windows mostly closed to keep the animals in and the rain and debris out.

Wed turned out to be a day focused on the welfare of our still remaining pets. (I had not seen my daughter Livi’s 2 younger cats, Betty and Judy since very early Tuesday morning.) I made sure to clean up after the animals and laid down plastic sheeting on the entire floor of Amber’s & Livi’s rooms to make cleanups easier. I had been hoping that I would be able to rest some on Wed, but I ended up staying very busy.

Around mid-morning, one of my neighbors down the street came by in a flat bottom boat with some volunteers from Louisiana. Don Smith had lost his entire house which was at a lower level down our street on Rolling Hills Drive. Don is a lifesaver and true hero. He selflessly gave all of his energies on Tuesday and Wednesday hopping on rescue boats for out-of-town volunteers to help guide them to areas of Bevil Oaks where people needed rescuing.

At one time on Tuesday, I did hear voices of someone being rescued, but it was not near me since sound can carry a long way over water. Don pleaded with me to evacuate, but I turned him down and let him know I had plenty of food and water. He said this is a rescue opportunity you’re turning away and the next one might be by helicopter. I said I had heard that story told by many preachers and that I still had two more chances (the parable about the guy who drowned after turning away a truck, a boat and helicopter saying God would save him, only to find out later at the Pearly Gates that God had sent all three to rescue him!). Don immediately replied that this is chance number two – the first chance had been the mandatory evacuation. I got a sinking feeling in my gut at that moment and determined I would not so easily dismiss a 3rd chance of escape.

Later in the afternoon on Wed, Deverie also begin pleading with me to get out – she was ready to send a rescue boat to me. I had just sent her a few pictures showing the true devastation of the neighborhood, and unwittingly increased the nervousness of my family who was worried for my safety. But I staunchly refused and told her to please let me go until Thursday afternoon so that I could pack, organize some for our eventual return and try to fish out the animal crates from downstairs. She valiantly agreed since she and I both knew that it would be very hard to get rescued with the animals if I didn’t have anything to put them in. She also set about to organize getting some crates delivered to the boats out at the water’s edge on Highway 105.

I made an attempt to get to the crates mid-afternoon since I had a really good idea of where they were in the kitchen and living room from the multiple bruises to my shins. But I couldn’t do it. I was able to pull a floating dining room chair to me with a baseboard and the exposed nails. But I could only keep the water out of my waders by standing on my tip toes. I was hoping to use a pair of chairs as stilts to “walk” over to the areas where I had last bumped into the crates. But for that, my feet needed to be able to set flat on the chairs. I could have easily got back into my swim suit and swam right over to the crates and pulled them out. But because the water level was so high, the amount of overcast daylight penetrating the unflooded tops of the windows was very limited, and I didn’t think my two little Harbor Freight flashlights would continue working after being water-logged.

By this time, I knew I had already taken many calculated risks – believe it or not, I was continually taking safety into consideration. I earnestly did not want to make my wife a widow or my children fatherless. That why I had killed the power early to prevent electrocution or arcing and potential fire. I decided that the crates and lives of our pets were not worth my life. I went back upstairs, checked on the pets and took a much-needed nap after a quick phone call with my wife at 1600. I had last talked to her Tuesday night at 2300.

Flooding during Hurricane Harvey from the second story roof of our home.

I next woke to the beautiful deep throaty sound of a loud airboat coming up the street (Lycoming-powered I’m sure). I simultaneously had a feeling of elation and regret. This time Don was not asking me to leave, but directing it. I let them know I needed to leave with the pets if at all possible since I knew deep down that I needed to do at least that for my kids. I asked if they could come back in the morning with the crates and leashes that my wife was arranging to be delivered in the morning by Chris, another hero from our home church of Calvary Baptist who was volunteering to help us with getting some crates to me. (I found out later that Don Smith also attends our church and is friends with the church family that took us in – more on that later.)

The volunteer rescuers (from Montgomery, Alabama, I found out later) agreed to try to let me take the dogs if I could leash them up, but not the cats. But I had no leashes and for all of my wilderness survival training experience (I had been an Air Force Academy survival instructor), all of the rope I had upstairs was only a 6″ piece of 550 cord – that’s 6 inches, not feet! Some survivalist I am!?! I asked if I could take 25 minutes to pack. Don said, no, it’s getting dark real soon and we need to leave now, grab your phone and your wallet. I said all I’ve got on is some swim trunks, please let me at least put a shirt and water shoes on and grab a single change of clothes. The team agreed. I also let them know to move over to the other window where there’s a flat roof landing (outside Jake’s window). Yes, I had not packed a solitary thing yet.

Again, I was in overdrive – actually more like afterburner. I grabbed a tiny bit of clothes, a pair of tennis shoes, my wallet, laptop, phone and their power cords. I closed Ashley’s window and went back over to Jake’s room with my mind racing a million-miles-a-minute. I knew I was stretching the patience of my rescuers, when I asked if I could just have a couple minutes to lay out some provisions for the animals.

At this point, I was planning only to try to take our two medium-sized female dogs, Ethel and Charlie – both of whom were nervously barking at the men’s voices and sudden bright lights. I asked if I could put the dogs outside so they could get familiar with the men. They said OK, but you’ll have to hold them yourself in the boat. They were both already on their hind feet at Jake’s window looking out at the unwelcome visitors. I threw Charlie out first and then Ethel, and they immediately tried to get back in. I had to close the window down some because I knew if I had to put them out a second time, it wouldn’t be as easy. I then grabbed a couple pairs of jeans, a few socks and underwear to round out my escape wardrobe of 3 T-shirts, a pair of shorts, some underwear, a ballcap, razor and deodorant – all in two small military backpacks.

I then focused on setting up the place for the cats that were going to be left behind. I opened Jake’s bedroom door, his closet, Amber’s room, Livi’s room, her closet and two bathrooms, but I made sure all of the windows were closed. I kept the door to Ashley’s room closed – it had been my pet-free sanctuary. I knew cats can be pretty resourceful at fending for themselves so I laid out two large bowls of fresh water for them, poured out the remaining catfood into a large bowl and then laid over a large bag of dogfood so that they could go in the open end and eat that, too. I saw George, Jake’s cat, sitting peacefully on Livi’s bed – she appeared unfazed. I gave her one last pet on the head and said bye, George, I’ll be back.

As I walked back to Jake’s room to make my exit, I thought, wait, I can take George in a cardboard box, but I knew I would probably lose her since a cardboard box wouldn’t be sturdy enough to contain her and the potential for it to get wet. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold the dogs and her. But then I spied a medium-sized plastic box. I quickly emptied its contents (my Leatherman multi-tool collection) and took it back over to Livi’s room. I threw a couple hand towels in the bottom and put George in the box, taking care to quickly put the lid on before she could bolt. I could feel her kicking around a bit as I carried the box back to Jake’s room and put one of my backpacks on it since the lid would not secure. I didn’t even bother to look for Rosie or Judy or Betty, the other three remaining cats, because I knew they would be next to impossible to find, let alone catch with the ongoing commotion. I handed one of the men my backpack and then the box with George and my other backpack. I threw myself out the window and closed it behind me. Charlie and Ethel were still freaking out, but at least they hadn’t been directly aggressive with the men yet. The one rescuer on the roof was trying to pet each of them. They suggested I get in the boat first and then pull the dogs aboard. I grabbed Ethel first knowing she’s less likely than Charlie to bolt into the water. Charlie loves to swim in the water and getting away from this situation would be a prime opportunity to lose her. Charlie backed away from me each time I tried to put my arms around her. I finally had to grab her by the scruff of the neck and drag her onto the airboat. I put on the ear defenders that were handed to me and wrapped my arms around both dogs’ necks.

When that airplane engine roared to life, the dogs’ attempts to escape my grasps intensified. After about a minute of going upstream down our street, we all saw what appeared to be a light coming from a house we had just passed. The pilot turned the boat around and navigated us to the direction we had seen the light. Several of my neighbors’ houses had reflective objects near the rooflines of patios and such. A couple of us thought maybe it was just a reflection we saw. Then we saw it. A battery-operated motion sensor light would come on when a piece of debris floated by. The engine roared back on and we headed back down Rolling Hills Drive. At the intersection with Sweetgum Road, Don directed the airboat team to make a left turn and started our getaway. We soon saw another light from another house, but after briefly investigating it, too, determined it was another motion-activated light.

As we powered up for the last trip out of the neighborhood for the night, I looked up and saw the most beautiful crescent moon poking through the clouds. It was for an instant, but that scene is burned into my memory.

I had to be hunched down for most of the trip out of Bevil Oaks fiercely holding onto the dogs, but once we hit the more open area of Highway 105, the dogs settled a bit and just wanted to feel the cool breeze on their faces. I don’t know how far we went down 105, but it must’ve been at least a couple miles or more – it was hard for me to tell since by this time I noticed my wallet and a USB memory stick had spilled out on the floor of the boat. I then realized I had not zipped all of my backpack’s compartments! Thank God I was able to recover my wallet.

The next thing I knew we were pulling up in the ditch next to 3 or 4 high-clearance vehicles on the road in about mid-calf deep water. A man in some uniform came over to get my information and then directed me to volunteers from Ohio with a truck and trailer. They asked if I wanted put the dogs in the back of the trailer and that one of them could ride back there with them, since I would be needed to give them directions to the church. I told them it’s easy to get there, just 2 turns.

I shook the hands of those that I could to give them my sincere thanks, and with that, I crawled in the back of a small horse trailer with a jon boat. We drove slow for what seemed a long ways down 105 where water was still covering the road. I heard a lot of splashing, but stayed seated with the dogs most of the trip. Deverie and the kids met me at Calvary Baptist Church, and I’ve never been happier to see them!

I thanked my rescuers and the other volunteers from the church and community. I have many more thoughts and details to share, but I’ll post them later. Thank you all for your concern and prayers. Please don’t feel offended if I didn’t — and don’t — stay in touch often. This ordeal is not over for us. Beaumont has not had running water since yesterday morning and my priority is the health & well-being of my family and trying to figure out what to do next. Right now, I’ve got some things to do. — Jerry, 1115, 1Sep2017.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jerry this is Rex I typed one message and it went away so I’m gonna try again if you get two maybe I want bore you . I am so proud to have helped in the small repairs we helped you with God has been so good in many ways too me and you . You are a amazing Man to have the attitude you have for all you have been Thur Keep me up on your progress if you can Always remember one thing God Loves Y’all and Me in all things we do Love to all Rex

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