Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast last Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane, stronger than even Hurricane Katrina, devastating the coastal communities of Rockport, Port Aransas and Aransas Pass. Over the next few days, the storm traveled inland before reversing course and skirting along the Texas Coast to Beaumont, all the while pummeling the Houston area with record rainfall and widespread flooding.
In the days leading up to landfall, area emergency personnel had been planning and preparing for the anticipated disaster and those plans were put into effect as the storm approached the coast. The New Waverly Fire Department added staff over the weekend, manning additional stations, while Walker County Pct. 4 crews began working 12 hour shifts keeping roads passable. Law Enforcement increased their patrols as well, and Constable Gene Bartee and his staff were among the first to feel the storm’s impact. As coastal residents scrambled to flee the storms path, traffic in New Waverly quickly gridlocked on Friday afternoon. Constable Bartee and his Officers spent the day manning intersections, clearing all the traffic by nightfall.
Noon Friday in New Waverly as the storm approaches the Texas Coast
As the rain continued to fall through the weekend, area streams and bayous began to flood, and a number of residents soon found themselves trapped in rising waters. New Waverly firefighters were called to the first of a series of water rescues when a driver found himself trapped trying to cross Winters Bayou on FM 2693 east of New Waverly. Firefighters were able to maneuver the departments rescue boat upstream and work toward the 3/4 ton pickup, plucking the driver from the bed and bringing him to safety. The bridge eventually would be washed out by the flood and remains closed at this time
New Waverly Firefighters working to reach a stranded driver during a swift water rescue on FM 2693 at Winters Bayou
As firefighters returned to service, calls continued to pour in throughout the area, leading to a number of swift water rescues. Sunday evening, Punkin-Evergreen and New Waverly Firefighters were called to multiple rescues again on Winters Bayou where it crosses Highway 150 between New Waverly and Coldspring. New Waverly Firefighters found two adult males trapped in their pickup in extremely fast water on the west side of the bridge and went to work again with their rescue boat. A Fire Engine was driven into the flood waters and its light tower was raised to illuminate the scene while crews conducted the perilous rescue. Both occupants were pulled from the water and were unharmed.
New Waverly Engine 71 in flood waters lighting up the rescue scene
At the same time, both New Waverly and Punkin-Evergreen Firefighters could hear cries for help coming from the trees downstream of the bridge. A husband and wife were fleeing the storm with their 6 month old daughter when they tried to cross the flowing waters and were swept away. Their truck was not visible to rescuers, but the crews on scene soon determined that the occupants were trapped in trees downstream on the east side of the bridge. Tragically, while making their escape from the sinking vehicle, the raging current pulled the infant from her parent’s hands and she was lost in the flood waters.
Hwy 150 at Winters Bayou during Sunday night’s rescues
Punkin-Evergreen Firefighters performed a miraculous rescue, taking nearly three hours to reach the stranded couple hanging in the trees. The couple were unhurt, but obviously were devastated by their loss. Making things worse, floodwaters had completely cut off the Punkin-Evergreen area, and the couple was sheltered throughout the tragedy by the Firefighters and local residents. As the waters continue to recede, PEVFD firefighters, Law Enforcement and volunteers are searching the bayou in hopes of recovering the missing infant.
New Waverly Fire Chief Jacob Slott reports that crews performed 12 swift water rescues from vehicles and houses, while PEVFD Chief Rick Stevens reports that his department also performed 12 swift water rescues. Chief Stevens also reported that PEVFD had set up a temporary shelter and aid station when the community was cut off from the outside world, ultimately evacuating and sheltering 48 including two medical emergencies that they were able to evacuate to area hospitals. At one point during the rescue operations, Punkin-Evergreens boat was swept up and overturned, and one firefighter nearly drowned before she was rescued. The New Waverly rescue boat sustained physical damage and its outboard motor will likely require major repair or replacement after navigating the extreme conditions.
Walker County Pct. 4 Commissioner Jimmy Henry’s Road and Bridge Crews shifted into high gear over the weekend as well, working 12 hour shifts throughout the storm. Pct. 4 Foreman Brandon Decker stated that their #1 priority was clearing roads so that trapped residents could escape the rising waters. Decker added that during the week, they replaced several washed out culverts and low water crossings, and made temporary repairs to damaged roadways throughout the precinct. He reported that several county roads and bridges are still in need of permanent repairs and residents should not drive past barricaded areas.
Pct. 4 crews work to repair 4 Notch Rd
Remington, a cadaver dog owned by New Caney Fire Department
Captain Rachel Crivelli search for infant on Wednesday.