Hurricane Harvey was one of the largest natural disasters in history.
The storm that hit along the Texas coast in late August, affected more than 35 counties in the state.
But following the devastation caused by the storm, numerous first responders and volunteers stepped up to help those in need, including people in Gillespie County.
Responding by rescuing
On Aug. 29, Fire Chief Roy Burdett of the Johnson City Fire Department was called by the State of Texas to gather a team of eight people from Johnson City and Stonewall to report to College Station and eventually to Beaumont and Port Arthur.
Burdett, five other members of the Johnson City Volunteer Fire Department and Matthew Schumann and Bradley Nielson of the Stonewall Volunteer Fire Department, packed up and headed to respond with a five-ton truck and two boats.
“As we made our way to the staging area in Port Arthur, everything we could see was in three or four-foot-deep water,” Burdett said. “We were the last ones through Highway 90 before they closed it off.”
Once at the staging area, Burdett and his team were divided into a battalion group and a smaller strike team of four people that were in charge of rescuing citizens in a 10-block grid. From there, they began their rescue efforts.
“We were just thrown into it all,” said Schumann, a Stonewall VFD firefighter and EMT B. “It was like arriving to a fire, you get straight to work. We had a short amount of time to get ready before we were out in the water rescuing people.”
The group traveled and swam from house to house, knocking on doors and taking residents out of the water to safety.
The responders carried seven to 22 residents at a time to a location that was within five to seven minutes, where they were transported to shelters or hospitals based on their needs.
“We would pick a few people up, drop them off and get right back to rescuing more,” Schumann said.
“We picked up everybody from someone who was three-weeks old to a 93-year-old woman,” Burdett said. “We had to load up fast and drop them off and repeat.”
After 16 hours, the team was able to rescue around 200 people.
“My initial thought was that we are going to help people as first responders, something we do every day,” Nielsen, assistant chief at the Stonewall VFD said. “But I had no idea the magnitude and the need until we arrived.”
The group continued their rescue efforts until Sunday, rescuing over 500 people.
They interacted with people who were left with few belongings. Most had filled a grocery bag with what possessions they could carry.
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