Search & Rescue in South Texas

Discussion in 'General Survival and Preparedness' started by ditch witch, Sep 7, 2017.

  1. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    Last night was the first decent sleep I've had since last Thursday when I rolled out of the Texas Panhandle at 4 am to meet up with a search and rescue team waiting for me in College Station. I'm fairly certain I could use another 48 hours of sleep, but I came home to a house that smelled like dog and man farts, sink full of dishes, and laundry piled high, so sleep will have to wait. While I'm waiting for my coffee to kick in, I thought I'd put this on the proverbial paper. I wish I had more photos, but I spent 90% of my time with hands on the wheels so I wasn't able to get a lot. And I keep remembering things and going back to add, so this will be more disjointed than my usual writings.

    I got a call from my former MMA coach/sensei Wednesday asking me to go with his S&R team into Houston. I hadn't spoken to him in a few years, and was surprised to hear from him at all. He said they needed people, trucks, and boats, and he knew I didn't crack under pressure, so would I come? He told me that housing was arranged and food was taken care of. I told him the boat was crapped out but I'd see what I could find. Asked if I should bring camping gear, was told no. Bring tools to cut through roofs because that's how they'd been pulling people out of houses when they were in Houston the day before.

    I packed cordless skill saws, towels, first aid supplies, every diesel and gas can I had. Didn't know what shoes would be best so I loaded up muck boots, rain boots, sneakers, and aquasox. Grabbed some swim suits that were basically leggings and a tank top, figured if I was gonna get wet at least I'd dry out fast once I got out of the water. Wet jeans suck. (that would prove to be genius in the coming days) Packed snack packs of dried bananas, almonds, little packets of almond butter, and some carb/protien/collegen bars from Primal Kitchen, packed ziplocks for putting ID and phones in, packed bottled water. Packed first aid supplies and a gallon of Chlorhexadine (the base ingredient in Hibiclens) as well as a quart of Hibiclens since the water down there was going to be a foul soup of bacteria, fuel, sewage, and general yuk.

    I tried to get donations to take down. Bottled water, non perishable food, diapers, formula. No one was interested. I tried to borrow a boat or some wave runners. Suddenly everyone's was broken or they were taking it to the lake that weekend. Apparently I'm sketchier than I realized. Whatever. I pulled out at 4 am and headed down.

    The team I met up with reinforced something I already knew. Know the people you've got to rely on, BEFORE you have to rely on them. There were 2 teams actually, and the larger one consisted of church folk with good intentions but no clues between them. One woman had a big horse trailer, determined to rescue dogs and cats, but she was high strung and wound up. Two guys were alpha cowboys, neither in charge but both determined to be. They had 3 flatbottomed boats stacked on a trailer, only one of which had a motor, but a lot of groups were using those boats like skiffs to tow behind the bigger ones. Two other guys were just excited to be away from their wives for a few days, high on Redbull and nerves. There was a Korean guy who looked 16 but was really 35 with a family, and he quickly proved to be the only calm, reliable one of the second group. He went in my truck, and was put on comms. A former coast guard member went in the back seat to work navigation using an app called WAZE. His wife, a certified diver, took up the last seat. We made a quick run to Tomball to pick up another loaned waverunner, which was hooked onto my truck.

    Comms. That was a mess. No one had radios. Everything relied on cell phones, and AT&T was crap. If you had 2 bars you were ecstatic. In Houston the day prior, the team leader was communicating with some local dispatch and getting things done. However, some .gov took over that dispatch and the guy running it at that point was located in California, with zero clue about the area. Teams were being dispatched to houses that did not exist to rescue people who were never there. Teams were being told to wait for a military escort to a location, only to be left waiting for 5-6 hours, then told oh sorry, we sent someone else out and didn't bother to update you.

    We were sent to Port Arthur, but halfway there were told the roads going in were all shut down. There was a lot of traffic out, and a lot of cars floating in the ditches. There wasn't much of a shoulder and the ground dropped off sharp on the other side of the right line. This one guy drifted over at me and then started waving for me to get over. Wasn't interested in joining the cars floating in the ditches on the side. I could see the center line and I was staying beside it. This was outside of Crosby I think.

    We'd regroup, be told to go to a location, then halfway there be told not to. While waiting for another destination, we hauled a load of water to a distribution point in Nederland. The lines to get water stretched for miles.
    FoodbankNederland. FoodbankNederland2.
    After chasing a bunch of ghosts we finally switched over to an app called Zello and started communicating with one of the Cajun Navy groups. Zello works like a CB system on your cell and is designed to work even with 2G service. It also sucks your battery dry faster than you can blink, so the phones stayed plugged into the various outlets in the truck at all times. Portable battery packs. Some of our team had them. I'm adding that to my list of things to get.

    Through Zello we hooked up with Tessa, who entertained me with her liberal use of f bombs and other 4 letter words which made some of the members of our team turn ten shades of red. Tessa was with the Cajun Navy with some people out of Lafayette I believe, and she and a number of other people were staged in Vidor, which had been hit by a storm surge. Off to Vidor we went.

    Ours were about the only vehicles heading towards Vidor. Everyone else was getting out. Between the wakes off the oncoming traffic, the headlights in my eyes, and the water being too deep to see the lines, I was driving blind at this point. I had guys hanging out either side of the truck with flashlights, calling directions to keep me between the lines.This went on forever.

    We stopped briefly in Bridge City to refuel, thinking we'd top off before heading into the flooded areas, but there was no fuel to be had. Every pump was shut down, everywhere. We talked to some other S&R people who told us they'd been shot at earlier in the day while down in Port Arthur. Some others that had run-ins with the Red Cross locations, donations and food and evacuees being turned away. They told us of a volunteer who arrived at a Red Cross center to find it unmanned, with buses full of wet evacuees sitting outside. She arranged to have hot meals flown in, but by the time the plane got there, the RC people had shown up and refused to let the food be distributed. Said the evacuees had been given a sandwich already. 1 sandwich in 24 hours. She'd been posting pics to FB detailing it all. IDK. I wasn't there, but plenty of others were.

    I got these of the shelves in the C store.
    beer. chips.

    We hit a roadblock about 20 miles from the staging area, state troopers who were wound up tight. East bound I10 was under water, but Tessa had told us to cut under the highway and get up on the westbound side and take it. The troopers were under the overpass and one ran out, gun drawn and yelling at us. We stopped, and our team leader tried to calmly explain we had been dispatched to hook up with the cajun navy S&R volunteers in Vidor, but he wasn't having it. Curfew was 7 to 7 and we were violating it. He wanted us to pull over and spend the night on the side of the road. We told him they were pulling people off rooftops and out of trees and needed all the rescuers they could get. He didn't care. We were violating curfew. Eventually we talked him into letting us head back home. We went a ways down the road to discuss our options. Through Zello, Tessa and another CN dispatcher named Michelle tried to deal with the state troopers, who were being problematic everywhere, as well as the Vidor PD who was supposedly arresting S&R people even as they came in with people they'd rescued. For some reason our team leader (my old coach) decided to switch places with my Korean comms guy, much to my annoyance because the Korean dude was calm and quiet whereas my old coach was jacked up on a gallon of Monster energy drinks and would NOT. SHUT. UP. Long story short, we headed back to Vidor. I ran the roadblock. The truck behind me with the high strung woman at the wheel did not and when she stopped, she trapped the truck behind her. They were forced to shut down on the side of the road until 7 am the following morning. Of our 3 trucks, 15 people, 3 boats, 3 waverunners, only 1 truck, 1 waverunner, and 4 people made it to the staging area.

    The two alpha boys were pissed, and decided that at 7 am they were going to take their toys and go home, even tho they were just 20 minutes behind us. To make things worse, my truck bed was loaded with relief supplies that we'd picked up before we headed out. My fuel tanks had been loaded into their truck. I had a little over a half a tank of diesel, and they had my 20 spare gallons. I asked if they were really going to run off with my fuel when we were 100+ miles from a gas station that was open. They said we could come and get it. I pointed out we couldn't leave until 7 either as we were now on lockdown in a Walmart parking lot, only leaving if a 911 call came in for a rescue. They didn't care. They signed on to save people, not sit around, and they were done. Perfect. Note to self. Never let anyone else haul my fuel.

    We finally met Tessa and some of the group was with. Team leader asked them where the "females could use the restroom". Everyone, myself included, just stared at him. Finally Tessa kinda laughed and said she'd just been pissing over at the car wash, but off the back of a bumper worked too. I loved Tessa. This wasn't her first aquatic rodeo. She's the one in the pink. I got this pic the next morning before everyone moved out.

    Under curfew, we couldn't do much. Cops were watching. The occasional 911 call came in and someone would put a boat in and check on it. At one point an Active Shooter report came in and everyone hunkered down, until Tessa came back on Zello to say one of their guys went out for people and came back with pot belly pigs. Apparently one of the pigs wouldn't let him catch it, so he finally shot the stupid thing. Someone heard the gunshots and called it in. There'd been a number of S&R people who'd been shot at by folks who didn't want to leave their flooded homes so it was a nervous relief running through when it was learned that it was only bacon.
    We slept in the truck. I say slept. I tried. Coast guard's wife tried. MMA Coach talked nonstop until 5:30 in the morning about nothing I cared to listen to. Around 4:30 I threw a bag of chips at him and told him to eat them and STFU so we could get some sleep.

    7 am saw everyone putting boats and wave runners in. Since we only had 1 wave runner left, our energy drink addled leader quickly took it and headed out, leaving the rest of us standing at the edge of a road staring at flooded houses. I went in about waist deep for this.

    While we waited for monster energy drink to bring the wave runner back, we talked to people. An elderly couple put in a tiny boat and went to see what was salvageable in their home just at the edge of the waters. When they came back they told us it was all ruined. The woman pointed down the road and told me there was an RV park at the far end, and they'd begged and pleaded with the residents to leave. "They wouldn't leave, not a one of them," she told us. At the end of the road all I could see was a horizon of water with rooftops peeking above the surface. Later, after the wave runner returned and we switched out riders, our Coast guard guy went down to check. He found the park, the big 5th wheel trailers barely visible beneath the surface of the water. He came back to tell us he doubted any of them survived. He didn't need to. It was warming up, and even where I was standing I recognized the stink of dead bodies that was beginning to rise.

    Another man told us of being on his second story and seeing people clinging to roofs and car tops and in trees when the storm surge hit. After it passed, he went to look again and they were all gone. People in cars who never got out. People who tied themselves to boats and rafts but were washed overboard anyway. People asked for rescuers to go to their homes to retrieve their dogs, who'd been put into kennels and placed up on counter tops. Some dogs were still alive. Some dogs had panicked and flipped their kennels off of the tables and bars they were left on. It was soon apparent that things were shifting from rescue to recovery. By that afternoon the state police and national guard began rolling in, along with swift water rescue boats. Volunteers were ordered out. Vidor was shut down to residents only.
    I10 was shut down as well. I took these up on it, right before I turned around and went back the other way because the road ahead looked about 10 ft deep.
    I10. i10-2.
    We'd taken a few back roads to get into Vidor but they'd since gone under water. My navigator told me WAZE showed a FM road that was clear so we headed for it. It was not clear. Not. At. All. But it was the only route out so we took it. Video quality is crap because Monster Energy was recording with Facebook live and the cell coverage out there was almost non existent, but it gets better about the time I start pushing a baby tsunami wave. Once again, just seeing the yellow line under the water was cause for celebration, and at 8-10 mph this seemed to go on forever. We'd come to a shallower area, then back into the deep, but always in water.

    We made it back to Nederland and caught a few zzzzs before heading up to College Station. The plan was to drop everyone off, get showers and sleep, then head back down to Orange to get my gear those a-holes had taken as well as take another load of relief supplies down. This time dust masks and bug spray topped the list. People were going back into houses, and the mold was already growing. The skeeters were already taking over. This wasn't my truck, got the pic from another guy with another group.
    Dropped Monster Energy off, then went to the next street up and made a lefthand turn. Was almost out of the intersection when 3 teenagers in a little SUV slammed into the back edge of the truck. Somehow the water pump seized up at that same time, slinging the belt. Fun. Short version, it cost me $419 and 48 hours to get the truck back on the road. Luckily there was another S&R guy who happened to own an automotive repair shop so he opened the shop just for my truck. Took the downtime to sleep... a lot. When the truck was ready I headed back down to Orange and the coast guard guy and his wife came with.

    All along the way we saw streets lined with the ruined possessions of the people living there.
    Groves1. Groves2. Groves3. Groves4.

    What made the return trip so surreal was we drove through areas that were totally under water just days before. Parts of I10 that were flooded enough to drive a shrimp boat down just days earlier were now dry and covered with traffic. The sun was out, the waters were gone in many areas, it was almost as if nothing had happened. At least, until you turned into the residential sections and saw the mountains of debris and damage anyway.

    Military is everywhere now.
    LaBelle1. PortArthur3.

    I am home now, much poorer and a whole lot wiser.
    1. No such thing as too much fuel. There were pumps open, selling water logged fuel. They got busted, but how many people bought that mess?
    2. I should have insisted my fuel and gear go into my truck. I didn't know those guys and as things unfolded my gut feeling that they were liabilities proved correct. Sometimes my desire to not be seen as "that controlling bitch" override my desire to cover my ass, and it very nearly got me screwed this time.
    3. Don't take anyone's word that "supplies will be provided". I left a lot of gear behind because I was assured it would be supplied. It wasn't.
    4. Glorywhores will bust a lot of gear in hopes of making themselves look good. (lost a waverunner when 2 idiots ran off with it thinking they'd rescue half of Houston by themselves, and ended up ripping it apart running over submerged cars instead)
    5. South Texas owes an unrepayable debt to the volunteers of Louisiana's Cajun Navy and Cajun Army. They saved countless lives.

    I've probably left out things, gotten some timeline off. I'm still exhausted and my head is killing me. I screwed up some stuff on the trip, but I must have gotten some things right because a different group of people asked if I'd be up to head to Florida. (probably just want me for my truck)

    Oh. One funny story that makes me look like an idiot and therefore will make you guys happy... :D

    While standing at the water's edge waiting for boats to come in, I spotted something swimming against the current. "Check it out, is that a squirrel?" I asked my new bestie, the coast guard guy's wife. "Maybe a rat?" she suggested. We moved towards it as it swum further away. "Ima get it," I told her, grinning. "Dammit I'mma save SOMETHING today. World needs more rats." Into the water I went, determined to save a rat that probably carried bubonic plague or rabies. I got right up to it and started to grab it and realized it was a damn leaf.

    I grabbed it and carried it back like it was a critter, just in case anyone was watching. Didn't need the story of the leaf rescue trumping the story of the pot belly pig rescue.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2017
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  2. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Great REPORT DW.... I like the Comms comments.... for any such operation, COMMs is Critical... and some folks just do NOT get that.... Dispatch Center needs to be run BY LOCALS, and LOCALLY, and NEVER EVER Remotely... Lessons Learned after long experience....
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  3. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    OH, I did want to add this to the end. This little girl was rescued out of Orange. She was 10 days old. Someone decided to get some pics of her on the boat that brought her to safety. I didn't take the pic, did not see any of this, but it was shared with the cajun navy's group so I'm sharing it here.

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  4. oldawg

    oldawg Monkey+++

    Thank you for going down DW. As a long haul specialized hauler I worked many disasters over 40 years behind the wheel. Never saw a single one that went to plan past 10 minutes. Katrina finally broke me of the habit. I retired in '07. I admire anyone who has the patience and drive to do it now with all the hassles and road blocks thrown up. Again, thanks for showing up to help those folks out. Oh yeah, check your diffs and tranny for contamination.
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  5. oldawg

    oldawg Monkey+++

    The pic kinda makes it worth it.
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  6. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    Are you going to go? :D

    Thanks for sharing your time in South Texas and the picture of the baby. I learned much from reading your post.
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  7. Dunerunner

    Dunerunner Brewery Monkey Moderator

    A wonderful story and what a shame there were so many who lost their lives when a little planning could have prevented it. The loss is heartbreaking.....
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  8. Legion489

    Legion489 Rev. 2:19 Banned

    Cute photo, that really brings it all into focus.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2017
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  9. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    I keep remembering things I wanted to share.

    Walmart in Vidor. It opened at 7 am. A line had formed outside, a mix of volunteers desperately wanting to use a toilet and locals in need of basic supplies. We talked briefly with the locals. There was no chaos, no fighting. Everyone calmly waited in line, talked about who they knew was safe and who they hadn't heard from. Older residents talked about previous floods and how nothing prepared them for this. Walmart let people in 3 at a time, and only for basics like bottled water, shelf stable food stuffs, toiletries. As we waited we saw kids running and screaming and playing through the standing water in the roads. Kids and puddles. Nothing changes.

    Dylans in Nederland. Bar and grill that was serving free food to volunteers and first responders. Talked to a waiter whose house didn't take on water but his little residential section basically became an island surrounded by water. They'd run out of food and he'd been making bread to share with his neighbors. No one could get out until that day, and he'd come straight to work. Since food was free he probably made a fortune in tips, lol. He said after this he was buying a big truck and a boat. He also told me great detail about his kidney stones. Met a very drunk shrimp boat capt who had family further down the coast but his boats were tied up in (i think) Port Arthur. Something about running from boat to boat letting slack out during the storms, but all three boats came through just fine. IDK anything about shrimp boats... I was guessing he meant he had them tied down to something and as the water rose, he had to keep feeding slack into the lines to keep the boats from breaking the lines or something. We asked about how it'd affect the shrimp and he said all the fresh water flooding into the gulf would wreck things, drive the shrimp a lot farther out.

    Injuries. Everyone was banged up, mostly from tripping and falling over submerged stuff. I was pouring that chlorhexadine over someone's busted knees and shredded ankles and shins every time I turned around. A story circulated about a volunteer who had to get a leg amputated the year prior because of flesh eating bacteria in the water where they were working. I used up almost all the neosporin, hibiclens, rubbing alcohol, and betadine I had and I barely made a dent patching up everyone's scrapes and cuts.
  10. Gator 45/70

    Gator 45/70 Monkey+++

    Thanks D.W. Sounds like quite an adventure and a lot of lessons learned!

    Next time, Team up with the Cajun navy, You'll get things done and may learn a few new dishes.

    A friend of mine out of Denham Springs was in Port Arthur Tx. helping out.

    I told him next time give us a heads up, We could haul in gas and food + supplys!
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  11. Gator 45/70

    Gator 45/70 Monkey+++

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  12. 3M-TA3

    3M-TA3 Cold Wet Monkey Site Supporter++

    Some people sent money, most did nothing. God bless those like @ditch witch that put it all on the line to help. She is my SM Hero of the Year and I'll re-read her reports in this thread several times to learn as much as I can from her observations.
  13. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    My limited experiences in bad situations in New Hampshire has been that us locals usually are doing fairly well and getting things done until the experts, law enforcement, and government show up and then everything fails. Had bad ice storm, took tractor and chain saw, joined neighbors with same, as a group we got a power company man who was surveying the problem to cut lines across road, let us put plywood over downed lines, and got one lane of roads cleared out, loaned generator to gas station to pump gas to local trucks, set up com system with fire department and ambulance service, made arrangements with 4 wd truck to get people to medical care, set up shelters at school and fire department and local farm tractor dealer brought in tractors with PTO generators and got power to fire department and school shelter, set up food distribution for all including home bound, got local plumber and gas powered air compressor to blow out lines so plumbing wouldn't freeze, etc. Then disaster relief arrived, shelters were over crowded, electricity had not been done to specs, etc and were closed and people were taken to "official" shelter 20 miles away, curfew was set up to prevent "looting" which hadn't happened and access was limited to residents of that street, the tree cutting, road clearing etc was stopped due to "liability problems", as was sharing generators and keeping several houses from freezing with one generator, etc. At that point the "experts, some from many hundreds of miles away, arrived to clear the debris, patch up the phone and power lines, etc. They hired no local help, but worked 12 + hour days, 7 days a week and cost us a fortune, but they were licensed, insured, trained etc. When time came to do the repairs, you couldn't borrow money for materials, but they would loan you disaster money for 5 times the amount to have a insured contractor do the repairs. I guess in the long run it is the system that the powers to be know works, but as an individual, you can sure get trampled by their actions. It regards anyone who has even a tendency to be self sufficient and wishes to handle an adverse situation by himself or with a group of like minded individuals, as at best ill advised and at worst a danger to himself and others. As ditch witch stated, it seems like the more irrational and grandstanding an individual is, the more likely they are to be in positions of power or to try to achieve power when the situation turns bad.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2017
  14. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    One thing that amused me was seeing signs over these huge garbage piles that said "DO NOT TOUCH!" and "LOOTERS WILL BE SHOT!" I made a crack about a crime wave of soggy carpet thieves, and a woman told me that people actually did steal the debris piles to add to their own. Then they could get a bigger insurance claim for the damages, and you'd have nothing to show to the adjusters. I never would have guessed.
  15. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    I am really interested in this Zello app. I will be researching and adding it to my electronics. What I have read so far, it seems to be real popular. Thanks for the info on this app.
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  16. Gator 45/70

    Gator 45/70 Monkey+++

    Have to take pictures and plenty of them!
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  17. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    A lot of the rescue workers are sick now, sore throats and headaches mostly but also swollen joints and stomach complaints. Reports are in, water tested in Orange has hepatitis, e coli, staph, tetanus, and flesh eating bacteria in it. I'm sure it's that way all over.

    I'm itchy as hell but most of it is mosquito bites. Slept all day. If I don't feel better tomorrow I'ma run to the clinic just in case.
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  18. Gator 45/70

    Gator 45/70 Monkey+++

    We pray for good results!
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  19. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    Times like these make me regret that my writing skills are so often woefully inadequate to express my feelings.
    I cannot begin to express the pride and admiration I feel in having one of our own put her life on hold to go and do what she felt needed to be done. Many of us get to know each other by posts and PM, but chances are that the majority of us will never meet FTF so we take one another at their word. You have proven that you are a DOer. I am proud of you DW and glad you made it home safe.
    Should you ever find yourself in our AO, you will have a place at Sass and I's table and a place to lay your head- though it would be ok if you brought some of your bacon along...

    PS: The Mr. needs [whipem]for you having to come home to his mess!
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  20. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    IDK if you heard it in the one video where we're driving through what looks like a lake, but I said I smelled a divorce and everyone started laughing. The joke was that I ran off with his truck and tools, lost some of his tools along the way, and was taking his truck swimming, so my anniversary present (Sept 12) was probably going to be divorce papers. And then I brought the truck home wrecked... yeah I ain't sayin nuthin bout dat mess. :whistle:
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