Boat Owners Play Key Role in Hurricane Harvey's Deadly Flood | Outdoor Channel
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Boat Owners Play Key Role in Hurricane Harvey's Deadly Flood

As Hurricane Harvey's flooding woes swamp Texas, boat owners from across the region, state and country are playing a key role in search, rescue and recovery missions across the southeastern corner of the Lone Star State

Citizen boat owners from across the country have helped answer the cry for help in the wake of Hurricane Harvey Citizen boat owners from across the country have helped answer the cry for help in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's devastating flooding. (Photo courtesy of Matt Stoll)

By: Lynn Burkhead

From high school football to Muy Grande white-tailed deer to weather, it's often said that everything is bigger in Texas.

As the damage and death tolls continue to mount in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, that may have never been truer than it is right now, a week that the Lone Star State would gladly give up its 10-gallon-size-hat reputation.

After Harvey roared to life in the southern Gulf of Mexico, many thought that severe winds – up to 130 miles per hour sustained at landfall near Rockport and Port Aransas – would be the tropical cyclone's legacy in the state. And to be sure, there is terrible wind damage in a number of communities along the state's coastal bend.

But the biggest story of Harvey isn't the wind, it's the water, particularly where the storm drew a watery bull's eye in southeastern Texas.

So overwhelming is the flooding disaster in Houston, the nation's fourth largest city, that U.S. Coast Guard, state and local officials were overwhelmed as they tried to rescue thousands of people inundated by floodwaters, some driven to their rooftops to try and escape Harvey's deadly wrath.

When the call went out from officials for citizens owning boats to lend a helping hand, the response was swift from all corners of the state.

That includes my own backyard north of Dallas where a Lake Texoma and Red River fishing guide named Norman O'Neal hitched up his airboat, assembled a team of three other helpers and pointed the pickup truck south.

"I just want to help out and I don't really care how long I have to stay, I just want to help," said O'Neal to a local news reporter with KXII-TV Channel 12.

That can-do spirit of O'Neal and the others moved Sara Jerome, a local chairwoman for the Red Cross, to reportedly help connect the group with a sheriff's department near Houston that needed help.

"It makes me cry," Jerome told the KXII television news reporter as she purchased food, water and supplies for the men to take south. "It gives you a lot of positive things for humanity; you can see the good in people."

anglers helping hurricane harvey flooding
Shallow-water-running fishing boats, such as this one, have played a huge role in rescuing people in various places along the affected Texas coast. (Photo courtesy of Matt Stoll)

The good Jerome spoke of has been on full display in the last several days, even as Harvey's massive rainfall tallies have continued to rise. And with every click of the rain gauge, a building armada of volunteer boaters has been descending upon the region, with skippers eager to help.

Some of those boats came from individual volunteers like O'Neal, Texans who were simply struck by the enormity of the catastrophe in their state and eager to lend a helping hand.

Still others have come from volunteer groups like the Cajun Navy – a group of Louisiana boaters famous for their rescue efforts during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the southern Louisiana flood of 2016 – while even more have volunteered from similar groups in the Lone Star State including volunteers from the Waco Navy and the Texas Navy.

In one case, boating help has come thanks to one of the Lone Star State's favorite sons, Texas Longhorns quarterbacking legend Colt McCoy, now a signal caller for the NFL's Washington Redskins.

According to various news reports, in addition to monetary contributions, McCoy lent his personal 16-foot fishing boat to a group of friends back home in the Lone Star State. That group reportedly includes his former UT teammate and Outdoor Channel television personality Jordan Shipley – who could not be reached for comment – to assist in the rescue work in southeastern Texas.

"That’s the least I can do from here," McCoy told reporter Jake Kring-Schreifels on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, after Washington's football practice.

"It’s tough," the Texas native added. "I don’t have a family in Houston, but everybody in America knows somebody from Houston -- there’s six million people there.

"It certainly has affected a lot of my friends and family. I’m just trying to do the things that I can from up here to help out."

Such boat-lending humanitarian efforts haven't been restricted to Texas residents, mind you.

News broke on the same day that McCoy was quoted about additional boating help coming from Bass Pro Shops owner and CEO Johnny Morris along with more assistance from Confluence Outdoors, the manufacturer of Wilderness Systems kayaks.

Published reports indicate that Morris and Bass Pro Shops, which have several stores in Texas including three in the Houston area, were supplying more than 80 Tracker boats to rescue and relief officials for the massive task in the region.

The company, reportedly in close communication with Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott and state officials, also is supplying some food and supplies for field workers, along with working to provide financial assistance with the company's affected workers in the area.

In the Wilderness Systems case, the North Carolina based company was loading up a reported 80 double kayaks on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017 and shipping them to southeastern Texas. Along with 175 personal floatation devices and 140 paddles, the company wants to assist Houston area law enforcement officials in their search and rescue operations.

"Sending a semi-truck load of kayaks, paddles and PFDs your way Houston!," read a statement on the company's Facebook page.

"From all of us at Wilderness Systems Kayaks, we are heartbroken as we watch the footage and photos coming out of Texas," another company statement read. "You are all in our thoughts and prayers."

While much of the boats, kayaks and help are inbound to beleaguered Houston, others are heading for the Golden Triangle of southeastern Texas, low lying shipping and refinery country near Port Arthur, Orange and Beaumont.

While Houston's plight has captured the attention of the nation, the scope of the flooding disaster was actually still unfolding in the Golden Triangle region even as this story was being written.

The very day that National Weather Service officials had announced a national record tropical system rainfall tally of 51.88 inches at Cedar Bayou near southeastern Houston, rains every bit as worse were falling on extreme southeastern Texas.

By midnight of Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 – ironically enough, the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's deadly 2005 landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi – a staggering 24-hour daily rainfall total of 26.03 inches had been measured at the Beaumont/Port Arthur airport.

By sunup the next morning, incomprehensible storm total rainfall amounts were being reported in the region including 45.35 inches at Beaumont, 45.74 inches at Port Neches, 51.17 inches at Bridge City, and 52.37 inches at Vidor.

As had occurred earlier in the storm in and around Houston, such massive amounts of water – a storm surge from the sky, if you will – caused life threatening flooding in the Golden Triangle region.

Once again, the call went out from officials on various social media platforms and communication channels for boating assistance in search and rescue operations.

"Individuals with boats are needed in Port Arthur for rescues," read a tweet from the City of Port Arthur early in the day on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017.

Once again, that plea for help was quickly answered by dozens of individuals and groups like those mentioned above, owners of private fishing boats and runabouts, all trying to help save lives in flooded out southeast Texas.

Those boaters were instructed to go to various rally points in and around Port Arthur, as well as providing their names, locations and contact information on social media lists.

While the final damage totals, death toll and sheer human scope of the Hurricane Harvey disaster remains to be seen, one thing seems evident as the storm begins to slowly wind down and finally pull away from Texas.

And that's despite the wind-and-water assault of Harvey – the first Category 4 hurricane to strike Texas since 1961 and the first to hit the U.S. since 2004 – there really is something beautiful being brought out of deadly tragedy.

And that's the goodness of strangers wanting to help strangers, eager to get them to safe and dry ground, even if all they have to offer is a simple fishing boat.

Because when the generous and can-do-spirit of Texas, Louisiana and the rest of America is applied to such a difficult natural disaster equation, watery mountains can get moved quickly with nothing more than the cranking pull of an outboard motor.

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