About 20 groups of 40 or 50 boats spread out through Dickinson and Friendswood, Texas, on Sunday and Monday to rescue thousands of people stranded in floodwaters resulting from Hurricane Harvey, now a tropical storm, as it lingered over the Gulf of Mexico and continued to drench the region.
“We were actually launching boats off on I-45 on an overpass,” Kyle Holmes, a 22-year-old Texas A&M student who had been rescuing people for two days, told Trade Only Today late Monday afternoon after nearly 11 hours of rescues. “So we were backing boats down the ramp on the interstate. The feeder roads were five feet deep. It’s unbelievable.”
Holmes, who says he probably rescued 200 to 250 people on his boat alone over the course of two days, described boats pulling up to second-story porches in apartment buildings because the water was so deep; residents of the first floor were crammed up on the top.
“Babies with formula and people with medications — everything you can imagine was to be seen yesterday,” Holmes said. “Most of the streets were basically like rivers with the current. You saw 10-year-old kids holding on to stop signs with life jackets yelling for help.”
“Really, literally people were screaming at you for help from every direction,” Holmes said, speaking to Trade Only on his way home, still drenched. “It was like a horror movie.”
Here is a brief video Holmes took that shows high floodwaters in a shopping center:
He spent Sunday in Dickinson, estimating that the boats had rescued about 80 percent of residents from the area they focused on, adding: “It’s hard to put a number on it because there are a lot of elderly people there in homes who can’t get to phones and can’t make themselves noticeable.” They spent Monday focused on Friendswood.
“Yesterday people were all over the place screaming for help,” Holmes said. “I got the women and children first and had some towels on the boat trying to keep them dry. I made several trips back into houses for diabetics and elderly people’s medicine, all kinds of stuff like that.”
“It got scary yesterday, and I’m sure it will again,” Holmes said. “All this happens and people lose power, and people say pick me up, pick me up, and we’d say no, I’m going for the women and children. My buddy had a pistol pulled on him yesterday.”
A man had been shouting for help, and when his friend explained that he was focusing first on women and children, the man pulled a gun and said, “Get me,” Holmes said, adding that his friend was able to speed up and escape safely.
“They’re desperate, begging for their lives,” Holmes said. “This guy’s saying, ‘Let me in your boat right now or I’m going to shoot you.’ You’re trying to help people and doing all you can, but if it gets dangerous I’m going to get out of there.”
The boats were working with the Texas National Guard, which has been fully deployed with 12,000 assisting with recovery efforts. Holmes — a tournament fisherman who is borrowing his neighbor’s shallow-water skiff — and other boaters assisting with rescuers, would drop people off at the freeway, where members of the National Guard and charter buses were located. The people were then loaded onto charter buses and brought to shelters in Galveston, Holmes said.
The floodwaters had dropped three feet Sunday night, but by Monday afternoon they had already risen a foot because the Army Corps of Engineers started to release water from the Addicks and Barker dams due to dramatically increasing water levels. Holmes said that would result in rising water today in the area.
“They’re opening lot of floodgates because the lakes are getting too full, and that’s all coming southbound and that’s why the water’s been rising again today,” Holmes said. “The storm, it hasn’t left. It’s just slowly, slowly circling, basically on top of us. Every time it touches the Gulf of Mexico, that warm water intensifies again. It’s kind of reoccurring as we speak.”
“It has been pouring all day today, which makes it four times harder to get everybody,” Holmes said, adding that his Gore-Tex coat was fully drenched. “Some people were able to get ahold of family members and find a safe route to get them [to shelters], but most of the people I pulled out of houses, all of them had like, one trash bag full of some clothes and that’s it. Everything else they had was gone, ruined.”
“Everything that I saw in Dickinson and Friendswood looked like a total loss,” Holmes said. “I talked to a local meteorologist today and he said this is a one-in-a-500 year flood. He said this is going to be the most record-setting flood ever to touch the southern United States.”
People desperate for rescue weren’t the only threat. On Sunday, Holmes was navigating clearer water and saw a Ford F250 that his boat didn’t even touch because the water was so deep.
“I hit several cars with my prop yesterday. There are whole fences floating down the street, parts of telephone poles, trash from people’s homes, everything you can imagine,” Holmes said. “The area we were in yesterday was very close to two brand new dealerships, and another used dealership, and most of the lots were completely underwater. I don’t know how many thousands of cars have been lost in the last 48 hours, I can’t even imagine the real number.”
There were also boats among the debris because the area had been completely caught off guard by the flooding. “They didn’t think this would actually happen, so nobody was really advised. There were no voluntary evacuations. No one really had any idea. I saw boats flipped over, boats still on trailers underwater in driveways.”
“All the volunteers, my buddies, they brought boats from all over the place,” Holmes said. “Most of the boats here were on trailers. The water rose fast and unexpectedly, so residents are fighting for their lives trying to get out. They’re not worried about boats.”
Areas just five miles away had no flooding, and residents with boats are “offering everything they have,” Holmes said. “I’ve got some buddies that went up to Houston today that I haven’t heard back from. Houston is getting it terrible today. Everyone I know has managed to stay relatively safe.”
Holmes said he has gotten calls from friends as far up as San Antonio asking how they can help.
“I’ve seen everything from Jet Skis, to kayaks, canoes, tubes, inflatable toys for kids, to homemade rafts,” he said. “All the streets going into the main streets of Dickinson and Friendswood, you pull in and it’s like a river on the other side. There are boats just stacked up at every one of them with people asking, ‘What can I do? Where can I help?’ It’s just been amazing.”
Holmes said a policeman he spoke with on Monday afternoon had urged him to go home and get some rest after almost 11 exhaustive hours of rescues.
“There were still boats and agencies going nonstop since I left,” he said. “So efforts have not stopped, but I had to get out of there — just mentally and physically exhausted.”
The main objective was to rest so he could be ready for more rescues today.
“I’m 22 years old and willing and physically able to do it. I’m going to do it in a heartbeat,” Holmes said.