Gary Miars sat in his Dallas home watching the news as Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding in southeast Texas and all Gary could think about was which boat would be best for helping people evacuate their homes. A few phone calls and a few hours later, he and a Dallas horse stable owner named Mike Mayes were heading to Gary’s lake house. “We needed something with a shallow draft that could navigate the water at any depth. My neighbor at Cedar Creek had a flat bottom boat with two wave runners that we were able to borrow,” Gary explained. With the boats and wave runners in tow, Gary and Mike set off for Houston.
When Gary arrived in Houston there was no easy way to navigate the city. Rivers of water flowed in what used to be highways. “Going down there, we didn’t really have much of a plan,” Gary said. “We knew there were some horses that needed to be moved so we started there.” The next morning Gary checked in with the Cajun Navy dispatch and saw that all the Tier One level emergencies were coming in from the Port Arthur area about 90 miles east of Houston, so they made the decision to go where they could be most useful.
As they drove along I-90 toward Port Arthur, the rain became more and more intense. Then they reached a point where the highway was closed due to flooding. Police officers were asking cars to turn around, but trucks that were pulling boats to help were being allowed through. “It was amazing to see how law enforcement let us do what we needed to do. People were able to get in there and get it taken care of,” said Gary. Their Ford F-150 put its 4-wheel drive to good use driving through miles of flooded highway, bringing the team at last to Port Arthur. But this wasn’t a typical boating experience. With no boat ramps and no rules, Gary and Mike found a secure location for their truck and then pulled the flat-bottom boat into the flood water using the wave runners. “It was every man for himself – we just went as quickly as possible to get the boats in the water and start helping people,” Gary explained.
The neighborhood that Gary and Mike found to help was in a lower income area where many people were still in their homes as the water rose. The two friends began going house to house in their boat, knocking on windows and yelling inside to look for people who needed to be evacuated. One woman was trapped in the upstairs of her home and was thankful for a way to leave before the water reached her second floor. One by one Gary loaded people into the boat and took them a little less than a mile where military and fire services were waiting on a bridge to transport people to evacuation centers. Gary told us, “we were on the water by 10 am and around 2 pm the first wave of people who wanted to leave were rescued, but then as the sun started going down and the water continued to rise, there were more people in the neighborhood who wanted to leave.”
In between rescuing people, Mike did his best to find any animals who needed help. One dog had been chained in the back yard of a home and abandoned. Only his head was above the water, so Mike released the dog from the chain, wrapped him up and lifted him into the boat. Another two dogs were perched on top of a submerged riding lawn mower, and with a few “fence modifications” Gary and Mike rescued those dogs as well, bringing all three animals to the animal shelter team stationed at the nearby bridge.
Gary and Mike continued rescuing people from the Port Arthur neighborhood until everyone was accounted for, and then started the long trek back to Dallas, arriving home at 2:45 am. For Gary and Mike, it was worth the effort. “People were so grateful when we rescued them on the boat. Everybody we encountered were so grateful and so nice. They had lost everything they owned - their house and cars were underwater, but they were so grateful to us for helping,” said Gary. “There was nothing but good-hearted intentions from people of every color and creed. It was truly a blessing to me to help people.”
The rescues may be finished, but recovery in southeast Texas is far from over. Trusted World is distributing donated items in Houston and beyond, and is still in need of cleaning supplies like bleach, work gloves, eye protection, and breathing masks. You can also make monetary donations to Trusted World, and local organizations such as The Greater Houston Communities Foundation and the Southeast Texas Food Bank.
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Story by Mary Martin.