It has been over a month now since the devastating landfall of Hurricane Harvey on the Texas coast. In the wake of all the wind, rain and destruction stories of heroism are emerging from many sources. Rescues, recovery and the rebuilding of lives and communities are apparent in all of the Texas gulf coast areas.
All Things Crossroads caught up with one local individual who experienced the Houston flooding first hand. Brandi Ramirez has lived in Victoria for the past twelve years. This single mom of three boys ages 12,11 and 4 has recently opened her own cleaning company called the Dust Bunnies. Prior to this, Ramirez has been an active member of the community and has been heavily involved in the Alzheimer’s Association doing Alzheimers education in the community. Just recently with the flooding crisis in Houston as a result of Hurricane Harvey, Ramirez became actively involved in hands-on rescues for those in immediate danger in Houston. Along with her boyfriend Captain Jake Wheelis and his friend Collin Gee, Ramirez helped rescue citizens of Houston on Gee’s high powered air boat. With no electricity or water in Victoria, the group decided not to sit at home and wait for electricity. Instead, they headed to Houston to lend a hand. With the help of friends in Houston, Thomas and Andrea Archer, they heeded the plea for boats in Houston. These five individuals formed a team. Arriving in Houston at about 1pm on Tuesday, August 29 with the air boat, the team was in the rising flood waters by 3pm pulling people out. In the area where they were working there was a bridge with flood waters on each side. Because of the capabilities of the air boat, the team was able to rescue people from their homes, take them to the cement bridge, let them walk across the bridge as the boat drove over the bridge and then picked up the people on the other side of the bridge and get them to the shelters. Starting out with just the one air boat, by Friday they had a group of fifteen people and ten boats that joined their group. The team was responsible for helping to evacuate hundreds of individuals to safety including residents of a flooded home for the elderly.
For Ramirez one of the most extreme scenes was when the team evacuated a privately owned home for the elderly. To see the airboat loaded with the elderly still in their wheelchairs was an emotional sight. “That was really emotional.” States Ramirez. “You know it’s dark outside and they’re terrified. There was one lady that could not even speak and she just grabbed Jake’s hand and kept kissing his hand. She couldn’t speak but you could see the fear in her face from the ride on the air boat and just the gratitude of being rescued.”
Aside from the emotion of rescue, this was a dangerous and challenging arena for the boats and the navigators. The current was strong and was rising by feet, not inches. Team members would have to jump out of the air boat and hold the boat steady and another team member would go into the homes to get people out. Each trip was loaded with five people at a time as well as belongings and animals. “Kids are terrified.” Recalls Ramirez. “Parents lived in an area that never flooded before. They didn’t want to leave.” Although at first people thought they would be fine, the team passed out their phone number in case they wanted to be rescued. As the flooding increased the team started receiving frantic calls from families for rescues. “Some of the same people that refused to leave we were pulling out. Pregnant women and old people were the worst. Stubborn.”
In addition to their time spent in Houston on Tuesday and Wednesday, the team made a trip to Orange and Vidor, Texas on Thursday to help there. The flooding of I-10 forced them to leave there and head back to Houston to help again. Having made a name for themselves, the team was requested by the police department to aid in rescues. Friday in Katy was their last day of rescues.
Jake Wheelis has a fishing guide business. He and Gee live their lives on the water. Due to the extreme conditions in Houston a great deal of planning and expense were involved in helping with the rescues. The air boat takes premium fuel and the team had to pack fuel in with them. The team also didn’t know where they were going to stay or where they were going to eat. In some places the flood water measured five feet deep or more and the air boat took a real beating. All the while, Ramirez’s mom had her three boys with her in San Antonio while the team was rescuing people in Houston. People in Victoria and the surrounding area helped raise over 27 thousand dollars to aid the team with the expense involved in these rescues. Money left over will be donated forward to help those in need.
Although this was Ramirez’s first experience with a hurricane, this is not her first experience with a natural disaster. She grew up in tornado alley in Mississippi. “As a kid I remember walking through fields looking for people, coming out of a shelter and your entire neighborhood is nothing but matchsticks.” But for Ramirez this still was a life changing experience.“I can’t even begin to explain the scope of what it is up here…where do you start? It was exhausting. We were up for 27 hours straight at one point but the worst part was going somewhere and people refusing to evacuate. Knowing there’s people still left behind and wake up the next day and the entire neighborhood is up to the roofs with water. We’ll never know if they got out; the lady whose husband had dementia and he was bed bound, she refused to leave. And there was another lady whose husband got swept away by the flood waters and she was just out of her mind and would not leave her house because she was waiting for him to come back. You can’t force these people to leave. So the emotional part for me was probably the most exhausting. When I got back home that day…when I saw my boys I broke down. I could not go anymore. It makes you realize how blessed you are.”
Ramirez would like to encourage people not forget that locally we have a lot to do. Rockport and Port Aransas are dealing with massive destruction. “The reason we went to Houston is because those people were in immediate danger. Skill sets are needed to help. That and time. Everything is needed. There are so many ways to get involved and give back.” When asked if she would do it again Ramirez responded, “I’d go again tomorrow if they called me.”
All Things Crossroads Magazine would like to thank this team and all the others who have risked their lives during this trying time.