Hurricane Harvey brought with it torrential downpours, historic flooding, and utter devastation for many communities in Texas and Louisiana, but fortunately for the residents of many in the affected regions, a different kind of flood soon followed: an outpouring of volunteers, donations, and support from Americans of all walks of life.
After a look at social media platforms like Facebook, the America of just a few weeks ago, ripe with anger and hatred, seems to have given way to what most of us have long claimed was always the real America; one where the color of your skin, the party you vote for, or the statues in your town square don’t dictate the way we treat one another. Tensions remain, but as flood waters began to rise in America’s heartland, so too did our sense of community, of togetherness, and of compassion.
Over the past week, social media feeds, that were once inundated with spiteful memes and angry rhetoric, have become a growing testament to the heroism exhibited by everyday Americans who saw others in need, and knew that they could help. These men and women put their own safety, their property, and often, their bank accounts at risk to head into the murky flood waters of ravaged communities like Houston, hoping that they might make a difference for those trapped by the rising tide.
Mark Detrick is just such a person. When he first saw the flooding in Houston on the news from his home in North Dallas, he knew he wanted to help. His wife and business partner, Mandy, felt the same way.
She told me she wished she could go down there and help, but I assumed we’d just be in the way if we went.” Mark told me over the phone on Friday morning. “But the next day, I was watching ‘Fox and Friends,’ and they said that they really could use the help of anyone with a boat down there, and I knew what I had to do.”
Mark already owned a jet boat, but knew that its draft would be too deep to be able to get through the shallower areas of flood waters in Houston, so he went on Craigslist and started looking for something that would be better suited for the rescue effort. Within hours, he’d withdrawn $2,500 from his family’s savings, and was on his way to buy a Zodiac a local man had listed. To Mark’s surprise though, another guy had shown up with the same intent before he could get there. The seller told him he’d already had ten other people try to buy it that day; a true testament to just how many people in Texas were willing to trade their saved money for the chance to save lives.
After a few more hours, Mark was the owner of a new (used) 16 foot Jon Boat with a 25 horsepower motor. He hitched it to his truck, and went home to have a tough conversation with his family.
Going down there to help meant I’d miss my son’s 16th birthday,” Mark told me, “So I asked him if it was okay that I do this. He said, ‘dad, if you’re helping people, I don’t care where you have to go.’ Then he helped me load the life preservers and other supplies I’d need onto the boat so I could set out early the next morning.”
Once Mark got to the Houston area, he met up Michael Taylor, a ten-year Coast Guard veteran who had come from the Dallas area with his own boat hoping to help. The two men used Zello, a walkie-talkie style smart phone application that let them listen for people in the area calling for help. They launched one of their boats into the flood waters near a Valero gas station and set about trying to find anyone in need of rescue.
It wasn’t long before Mark and Michael found their first catch of the day: a group of women and children that needed rescue from a home in one of Houston’s flooded housing developments. One of the women was pregnant, and the oldest of the three children was only four months old. The two men carefully helped the group aboard, and set about getting them to safety. They continued to search for people who needed help until night fell, and the two decided to make camp inside a Shell Station in Brookshire.
The next morning, Mark and Michael were gearing up to head back out and start their search again when they were approached by a man looking for someone to rescue his father in law. He told them that the man was in his nineties and had chosen to remain in his home. A World War II veteran, his father in law is a fiercely independent man, but had finally relented to being evacuated that morning as the flood waters began lapping up onto his elevated front porch. Mark and Michael quickly hopped on Michael’s boat and set out after him. You can watch the video of their approach below.
When you look at my Facebook wall, everyone’s saying things like ‘Mark, you’re a hero,’ but listen,” Mark explained, “I was adopted as an infant, and I know that genetics are responsible for maybe fifty percent of who you are, but the other fifty percent comes from your environment. I’m not a hero, I’m a product of my community. I did this because we all did it. This community made me who I am.”
After listening to Mark’s incredible story, I asked him what he wanted to impart on those of us who haven’t been there to see the destruction, and the heroism, in Texas first hand. What he told me was heartbreaking.
The magnitude of this whole thing is unimaginable. Not only are people losing their homes, but that kid that delivers pizzas for Dominos is missing work, and that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it means he won’t have the money to pay to keep his lights on, to pay the rent on the house he can’t live in anymore. That means the landlord relying on those rent payments now can’t pay the mortgage on the building, and so forth. The repercussions of this are going to permeate throughout the community for years to come.”
As a real estate agent, that economic impact is sure to hit Mark and his wife’s business, and with such an acute understanding of how tough things are going to get, I had to ask him, what made him decide to hollow out his own savings account to go help those in need?
“Money doesn’t matter,” he answered in an instant, “time matters. You can’t get time back. Spending time with my family is what’s important to me.”
Thanks to Mark, Michael, and countless others helping in the rescue effort, time is exactly the gift they’re giving to those they pluck from the flood waters; time to see their loved ones again, time to continue living their life… time to rebuild the state that they love.
Images and videos courtesy of Mark Detrick