It’s not the first time Yamaha Marine Pro Fishing staff member Dwayne Eschete has spent a 48-hour stretch rescuing people stranded by storm floods.
The Louisiana native had done the same thing after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. About a month and a half later he was staying in Texas after Katrina, and Hurricane Ike struck.
“Now I’m living here in Texas, and we get Harvey,” Eschete told Trade Only Today from his boat on Wednesday. “The good thing is — well, it’s not a good thing — but for me, going through it three times, as far as rescue goes, you kind of have an idea of what you need to do and where you need to go to help people out.”
During the first two days of rescues in the southern Houston area, there were buses waiting for people being dropped off by the hundreds of boaters who helped the overwhelmed federal and local agencies responding to the floods with rescue efforts, Eschete said.
During the next two days boaters were simply bringing people they’d rescued to the high ground where they’d launched their boats because there were no buses.
“To see them with everything sacred to them in garbage bags just walking down the street — no idea where they would sleep tonight, how they were going to eat, what they were going to do next — but they were just so happy to be on dry ground,” Eschete said.
“It’s like a nightmare, it’s like a nightmare,” Eschete said. “It’s like Katrina all over again. But when you’re rescuing all day, you can’t think about it.”
As of today, 31 have been confirmed dead as Houston-area floodwaters resulting from Tropical Storm Harvey, downgraded from a Category 4 hurricane, had begun receding, but the area was not yet out of danger, according to the Associated Press.
The storm was weakening to a tropical depression and heading inland today, but with as many as eight more inches of rain expected as the system moves farther inland, authorities said they dread finding out how many more remain under the several feet of water that is expected to continue submerging southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana for weeks, according to NBC.
The biggest frustration, echoed by many who were trying to rescue and provide other assistance as the nation’s fourth-largest city grappled with catastrophic flooding after receiving 50 inches of rain in some areas, was getting from point A to point B because of road closures, Eschete said.
But the hardest thing for Eschete was encountering those who refused to leave their homes.
“We’d pull up to one house and they’d be crying and hugging and thanking you just because they had an out,” Eschete said. “Then you’d go a house or two down, maybe it’s a two-story house, and the people would say, ‘We’re not leaving.’ ”
“I’d tell them, ‘You don’t know how long this going to last, the water could come up another 10 feet,’ and they’d say, ‘No we’re OK, we moved the food upstairs, we’re worried somebody is going to steal something in my house,’ ” Eschete said. “What are they doing to steal? All your wet furniture? Your wet TV? These are all materialistic things you can replace. We can’t replace your life.”
“I had a fireman on my boat, and he basically told this one guy, Anthony, he says: ‘Anthony, I do not want to have to come here once this water recedes to face your face and body in this house, drowned, knowing that I was here to rescue you and you’re not taking the warning to get out,’ ” Eschete recounted.
That worked, but of the 300 to 400 people he estimated he rescued on his boat, probably 10 refused to come, despite warnings that if they refused this chance they would not get another.
“I couldn’t tell you right now if they’re still alive or not. You’re in a situation where, if you wasn’t going from one place to another place, you would sit there and keep thinking about it,” Eschete said. “But when you’re going every day and rescuing 40, 50, 60 homes, you don’t think about it. You just hope that guy’s still alive.
“The sad part was … we had 10, 12 people in the boat we just rescued who were begging to be rescued, and we’re trying to convince this guy for 30 minutes to get in the boat,” Eschete said. “That’s 30 minutes we could’ve spend rescuing someone who was in need and wanted to get out.”
The human toll likely won’t come close to Katrina, which claimed over 1,800 lives — perhaps in part because of the hundreds of boaters who saved thousands following Harvey — but Eschete believes this storm will have the largest dollar impact of any weather-related catastrophe in history, citing a local radio news program that estimated more than 450,000 homes were lost.
Eschete had also saved a fair amount of pets, including a woman, her adult son and her five dogs, who opted to stay behind when a small rescue boat on Friday night wanted her to leave the pets behind.
This woman and her adult son in this video had refused to leave their five dogs behind when one small rescue boat came through and could not take the pets.
She initially refused Eschete when he asked whether she was coming, saying she wouldn’t leave her dogs.
“I said, ‘I’m taking you and your dogs,’ and the lady started crying,” Eschete said. “She wasn’t leaving her pets behind. In her words, ‘If my dogs are going to drown in this, I’m staying with my dogs.’ ”
On Wednesday, emergency responders were able to handle the rescues, which would likely shift to recoveries of bodies, so Eschete was focusing on food.
“I’m trying to buy groceries to cook now, to bring to the shelters, to bring to the first responders,” Eschete said. “That’s my goal today.”
That was difficult when the grocery stores that were open had little if any food, he said.
“You know how Wal-Mart has a regular entrance and a grocery entrance,” Eschete said. “The grocery side is wrapped all the way around the store with people trying to get in to buy food. It kind of sums up what’s going on. I’m going to send you a picture of this.”
“One thing I heard on the radio was to bring dry clothes to the police station. These guys have exhausted all their dry clothes and have nothing to wear,” Eschete said.
People were desperate for food, clothing, toothpaste, baby formula and diapers, he said, because trucks headed for the area were unable to reach the people most in need.
“There’s people who’ll take anything right now,” Eschete said. “People lost everything. Literally everything.”