Volunteer army combs flooded Houston suburbs

Volunteer army combs flooded Houston suburbs

Texas volunteers
Local residents are evacuated on an air boat operated by volunteers from San Antonio, in the Clodine district, after Hurricane Harvey caused heavy flooding in Houston, Texas. (MARK RALSTON/AFP)

CYPRESS: Dragging boats behind their pick-ups, volunteer rescuers from across Texas have poured into flood-stricken parts of their state to ferry to safety those stranded in the wake of Harvey's torrential rains.

Overwhelmed by catastrophic rainfall that has neighbourhoods resembling lakes, local police in particular have welcomed the efforts of Texans willing to chip in.

"Knives, ropes, harnesses, water, life jackets for kids - hopefully everything we need," ticks off Tyrel Cox. The 31-year-old employee of an offshore oil rig lost no time wavering before leaving the city of Waco for the hard-hit southeast with his father, boat in tow.

"I used to be a coast guard and I have a boat, and they were calling for people to come and help," he explained, his hands on the wheel as he watched the next convoy of a dozen cars and boats gearing up for direction from the police of Harris County, which includes Houston.

"So we came down to help."

The fourth-largest American city with 2.3 million residents, Houston has been paralyzed since Harvey struck. And in parts of its greater metropolitan area, home to six million people, authorities are still struggling to reach those in need.

No fire trucks nor ambulances roamed the streets of Cypress, a community of some 46,000 on Houston's northwest outskirts. Only local police and an improvised army of volunteers equipped with boats were navigating its flooded arteries.

"At this point we're dealing with how do we get to a large community that probably is without power; probably can't charge their phones or get on Facebook," said one officer sporting a bright yellow raincoat and police cap.

She pointed to a line of 15 vehicles and boats waiting their turn to set forth on waters cutting off access to an isolated subdivision.

"Our guys are actually spread so thin and around, they can't even get to this area," she said. "So this is going to be pretty much the community coming together with the sheriff's office, and trying to figure out what we can do."

"Yesterday I had more volunteers than people to save, and it's a good problem to have," she added with a laugh.

'HAPPY TO BE TEXAN'

Protected from the rain by a cap, Lee Dejong, 29, came with a colleague from the state capital Austin as soon as he heard floods had threatened Houston and its suburbs, where one of their friends lives.

On the hour-and-a-half journey southeast the two self-employed men bought a used boat they found on Facebook.

En route they met two more young men from Hempstead, not far from Cypress, who had a larger vehicle. "We wanted to help," said Armando Guerra, 24. "They had the boat, we had the truck."

The four teamed up and awaited orders from Harris police on the edge of a river that had inundated a small road flanked by now-deserted elegant buildings.

Houston's western district of Clodine, saw similar scenes.

Andrew Brennan arrived with a boat from neighboring Louisiana, where Harvey made landfall again Wednesday triggering painful memories of Hurricane Katrina's deadly strike 12 years ago.

"We came down because y'all came for us during Hurricane Katrina," the boat captain said, long hair flowing beneath his cap.

"So we figured that it was only our part to come and assist with rescues. And we just hope that we can help."

Volunteer rescuers have proven a vital force in the Harvey relief effort, helping to locate and bring to safety trapped locals.

As water levels crept up the walls of their house the Alvarez family of Clodine called for help; after several hours, they were finally saved by a team of volunteers.

Still trembling, Sonia Alvarez said she expected a team of firefighters or other officials - but instead, "just regular people" rescued her.

"That's just regular people that we went to school with and neighbors and stuff," she said. "I'm like so happy to be a Texan and a Houstonian for sure."

Source: AFP/de

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