People tend to think of themselves as invulnerable. The way we’ve set up our society, most of us never face much danger, while the danger we do face usually comes from other people. But every now and then, a natural disaster happens and reminds us that we’re far from invincible.
Still, we are able to predict and prepare for those disasters, minimizing their impact. But perhaps because of our delusions of imperviousness, we sometimes don’t prepare as well as we should. When one community found itself unprepared, one man would demonstrate outstanding character…
Each summer, the changing weather causes severe storms to form in the Atlantic ocean in what is called Hurricane Season. Massive systems of heavy wind and rains can cause unimaginable amounts of damage when those hurricanes make landfall.
The Atlantic Hurricane Season was one of the most devastating of all time. Several storms battered the Caribbean, killing hundreds, displacing thousands, and doing billions of dollars of damage to buildings and infrastructure. One island — Barbuda — had over 95% of its structures destroyed and became completely uninhabited…
While unprecedented things were happening on the various islands of the Caribbean, there was also unusual storm activity striking the south and east of the United States. One of those storms, Hurricane Harvey, would end up being one of the most damaging ever to strike the mainland of the US.
Growing In Power
In the areas that would be affected in Texas and Louisiana, people were urged to evacuate but for many people, the storm didn’t seem severe enough to uproot their lives. But as the storm’s intensity continued to rise it came closer to land. Many people found they’d changed their minds but it was too late to get out…
29-year-old Zachary Dearing was one of those people. He had moved to Rockport Texas, a town on a small peninsula protected from the Gulf just 3 months ago in order to live with his father, a cancer survivor. While his father had already evacuated to Houston, Zachary was forced to join others who’d stayed behind in a school that was being used as a shelter.
By the time Zachary had gotten to the shelter on Friday night, the wind and rain were already raging outside. But rather than finding a well organized safehaven, he was shocked to find that the shelter was without any supplies or management to help the over 100 people inside the school walls…
We Need A Hero
Like everyone else in the shelter, Zachary was worried. The storm outside was only growing more intense and things could easily get very bad, especially for some of the more vulnerable people inside the shelter. Rather than waiting around for something to happen, he decided he had to take action.
Zachary went around talking to people, looking for people who would be willing and able to help out. He was able to recruit 15 volunteers — most of them between the ages of 16 and 21. He organized them into 30-minute shifts, checking on everyone inside, especially the elderly, the very young, and the injured…
Though no supplies had been arranged specifically for the shelter, Zachary figured there had to be some useful things in the many classrooms of Live Oak Elementary. To gather those things up, he went with some volunteers to “raid classrooms” for things like trash cans, hand sanitizer, and rugs for people to sleep on.
He also convinced everyone in the shelter that they should come together and pool their food and water so everyone could be fed. Zachary also got his team to plug leaks caused by the pounding storm…
Zachary was glad that his efforts helped ensure the safety of everyone inside the shelter and made riding out the storm more bearable, but that wasn’t enough for him. He realized that there had to be more people out there who had tried to make it to the shelter but had gotten stranded outside or pinned down in some inadequate structure.
Into the Storm
To help those people, Zachary organized periodic excursions out into the driving winds of the Category 4 storm to search for and rescue more stranded people. It’s likely that the people he and his thrown-together crew had found may have died without their help…
At one point, 2 police officers showed up. One said to Zachary “It looks like you have a system here. Just tell us where you need us.” “It was a weird feeling,” he said. “I didn’t realize I had taken control.” The officers stayed to help for a while before they were called elsewhere.
Over the night, most folks stayed together in the school’s gym, which seemed to be the most stable part of the school. As Harvey battered the building all through the night, people staring up at the ceiling could see visible waves moving through the structure. The basketball hoops shook all through the night, adding another element of noise to the challenge of sleeping through the night…
Help Has Arrived
It wasn’t until the next morning, after the worst of the storm had passed, that the first state emergency workers pulled up to the shelter. The first thing they did was ask who was in charge. Everyone pointed them to Zachary.
29 years old, wearing shorts, an olive-green T-shirt, with his hair put up into a man-bun, Zachary certainly didn’t look the part. Despite his appearance, he seemed to have a handle on things as he relayed the basic information the emergency workers needed…
Who Are You With?
He told them there were 126 people inside, 6 of whom were medically fragile, 4 needing oxygen, 2 needing hospice care. Everyone was calm because they’d all just been fed. Then Katie Contrera of the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force asked “what service are you with?”
She was shocked when Zachary told them he was just an ordinary guy with no training that had prepared him for this work or any medical expertise. He was a screenwriter by trade. According to Contrera, he’d done a great job considering the circumstances…
“I was very surprised — and so thankful — that someone filled that role,” Contrera said. Still being an untrained person taking on a massive responsibility had taken its toll. After working all day and night on next to no sleep, Zachary was glad someone else could take over.
6 hours later, when buses arrived to relocate the shelter residents to Austin, Texas, Zachary was shedding tears of joy at that point, grateful for their rescue. “No one got hurt; the patients are alive,” he said. “These guys answered my prayers.” The feeling was mutual. “That guy is a hometown hero,” said Carlos Alcaron, a state medical task force worker. “That’s my definition of a hero — when someone does something out of the ordinary to help other people.”