Waco resident Jeremy Scott Echols rode down a Cypress highway Monday going the wrong way, looking for anyone in need of rescue.
Traffic wasn’t an issue as all the roads were under water from Hurricane Harvey. Echols, who left Waco Sunday night with a group of friends to help in Houston, was in a boat.
“We’re soaking freaking wet and it’s the craziest thing,” Echols said. “It’s just really a nightmare to try and find people.”
Echols and his friends left with two boats, 120 gallons of diesel fuel, water and supplies in hopes of lending assistance to those in the Houston area, paralyzed by one the largest downpours in U.S. history after the Category 4 hurricane.
“Nobody can get anywhere down here. It’s all shut down,” Echols said.
His team — which included Austin Shirley, Grant Turnbow, both of Waco, and Jason Harlow, of Dallas — was partnered with a sheriff’s deputy as they traveled through neighborhoods to help anyone stranded by the rising waters. Echols said Monday afternoon he’d long lost count of the number of people, or animals, who they’d given a lift to dry land.
The team took turns swimming alongside the boat after trips that filled the boat, leaving the Waco residents in the cold water, he said. Many of those needing rescue were elderly, and would not be able to handle the water condition, he said.
On Monday, Echols was scheduled to be in his Calculus 3 class at McLennan Community College. By Monday evening, he didn’t know when he’d be back to Waco.
Echols is one of many who have taken personal watercraft to one of America’s most sprawling metropolitan centers to help.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway across Greater Waco to assist those whose homes, communities and businesses along the Gulf coast have been devastated by Harvey.
The state has not yet called on Waco to open shelters but local responders are in constant contact if the request arises, said Frank Patterson, Waco-McLennan County emergency management coordinator.
The last time the state requested Greater Waco open its doors to evacuees was in 2008 after Hurricane Ike, Patterson said. More than 1,500 people were housed in local shelters then, he said.
“There are a lot of people, as reports are coming out, they aren’t interested in leaving. They want to stay close to where they live.Lots of shelters are opening up closer to the impacted area,” Patterson said.
However, the local shelters are preparing. It takes 24 to 36 hours to open a shelter depending on its size, he said. Cots are brought in along with other supplies and a registration system is put in place, he said. The area would perform a rolling opening; as one shelter begins to reach capacity, another location is prepped for an opening.
The best way for locals to help is through financial donations, Patterson said.
Donated goods often don’t get to where they should due to logistical problems, he said. And structures are in short supply to house donated items and volunteers are still in the search-and-rescue phase, with no time to sort out donations, he said.
“It’s often better to support through whatever charitable organization that you prefer, to provide that financial support,” he said. “That way they can purchase what they need and it’s easier to manage than having a bunch of goods show up.”
The American Red Cross Serving the Heart of Texas will offer a shelter training class at McLane Stadium on Tuesday afternoon for those interested in volunteering.
Residents interested in the class, which runs from 1 to 4 p.m., are asked to RSVP at 265-3311.
The Salvation Army in Waco is on standby for deployment.
The disaster canteen and disaster team could leave at any moment for Houston, Maj. Anita Caldwell said.
“They are waiting until the water drops enough so we can actually get to people,” she said.
The location at 4721 W. Waco Drive will continue to accept donations for those affected by the damage, she said. If the canteen fills up, she said, they will make more trips as long as supplies continued to be needed. Bottles of water, canned goods and snacks are welcome donations, she said.
Monetary donations are also encouraged, and residents are asked to write “Hurricane Harvey” on checks so they go to victims’ assistance, she said.
“(People) care so much, they might take things from their closet without looking at them. If they are missing a button or something is wrong with the clothes, we can not give that to someone who is already hurting or in sorrow,” she said. “We’d never want to hurt someone by handing them something that is anything less than we’d put on.”
Gift card donations for food or gas also help evacuees who have come to Greater Waco and need assistance, she said.
”We will give until it is gone,” she said. “If there is anything remaining, we will give to those needy in our area.”
The Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau started Monday a running list of hotels with rooms available in the area for those escaping Harvey. The list — at wacoheartoftexas.com/visitors/lodging/waco-hotel-rooms-hurricane-harvey — details local hotels, number of rooms available, and a number to reach the site. Anyone who owns lodging in the county and wants to add their location to the list is asked email email@example.com.
In Waco, Baylor University senior Juan Cabrera helped his parents load a truck up with supplies to take back to Port Lavaca.
Cabrera said his parents evacuated their home Friday morning and had stayed with him until the brunt of the storm passed.
“They had originally planned to stick it out, but the storm had become so unpredictable and did eventually make landfall stronger than expected,” he said. “The biggest concern about returning is finding a route that is open. The city is without resources to hand out and my mom is planning to take back a load of whatever it is she is able to purchase in Waco.”
Cabrera’s mom, Wendy Cabrera, said staying in contact with those who stayed behind during the storm has been difficult as cellphone service has been spotty. She said they previously fled the area once during a storm, but they rented an apartment at the time. Leaving this time was much more difficult, as their home of 12 years has all their personal belongings, she said. The only thing she took with her to her son’s home in Waco was a hard drive, she said.
“I cried all the way from Port Lavaca to Cameron,” she said.
High waters near their hometown have lasted longer than expected, she said, but they are eager to return, as she’s the director of the food bank in Port Lavaca and eager to assist those in need.
Several local organizations are collecting donations.
Highland Baptist Church members plan to hit the road Thursday with an 18-wheeler loaded with donated items.
Lead Pastor John Durham said they will collect very specific items Tuesday and Wednesday at 3014 Maple Ave. : bed sheets for all size beds, very slightly worn clothing, bleach, personal toiletries and hygiene products. All other items will not be accepted.
The church partnered with the nonprofit Send Relief, which is overseen by the North American Mission Board, he said. Each church participating in the effort has its own list of supplies to bring with them, Durham said.
“When our truck arrives, they don’t have to sort through things. They know exactly what’s in it,” Durham said. “Can you imagine trying to unload an 18-wheeler and saying, ‘What’s in here?’”
All the trucks will meet at First Baptist Church in Houston, which has been designated as a staging site for supplies, he said.
“There’s people in our own state hurting. As Christians, we want to be the hands and feet of God’s grace to people in the Gulf,” Durham said. “We’re housing evacuees from Houston and Corpus and Victoria. The church folks have been so kind to open their homes and now we’re asking them to open their wallets.”
The Robinson Church of Christ is accepting donations and will be sending item to those affected by Harvey. Supplies including de-humidifiers, fans and extension cords are needed. Exterior clean-up supplies and interior clean-up supplies are also needed.
Donations can be dropped off at the church at 428 Chado Lane in Robinson from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
Waco’s Bubba’s 33 and the Waco River Safari have plans to take donated items to staging centers in Houston, Rockport and Corpus Christi.
The American Red Cross has requested donations of bottled water or sports drinks, baby supplies, blankets, non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies, pillows, towels, personal hygiene products and trash bags, said Marc Shaw, Bubba’s 33 marketing manager.
Bubba’s 33 has locations in Corpus Christi and Pasadena, so the owners have been in regular contact with officials heading relief efforts in the area, Shaw said. They have contacted the Red Cross to determine the best drop off times and materials, instead of collecting items that will only get in the way, he said.
“I can say all of our employees throughout the entire company have checked in and let us know they are OK,“ he said. “That is a huge stress relief, a huge stress relief.”
The two companies have a large, enclosed trailer they will use to take donated items to the staging areas Sept. 5, he said. Until then, they will accept donations at Bubba’s 33, 2601 S. Jack Kultgen Expressway; and Waco River Safari, in the Baylor Basin by McLane Stadium.
“When something devastating happens, there’s nothing more we can do than help,” he said.
The United Way of Waco-McLennan County is asking that any donations be made directly to the Houston office at unitedwayhouston.org/flood/flood-donation.
Family of Faith Worship Center will accept donations through Wednesday.
The church members have an 18-wheeler they will take to Houston filled with food and supplies for victims, church administrator Marcia Beverly said. The church partnered with East Texas Dream Center in Conroe to get donations to those in need, Beverly said.
Church members plan on leaving Thursday morning. Donations of cleaning supplies, brooms, mops, trash bags, food, blankets, hygiene products and bottled water can be made at 4112 Memorial Drive from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.
Club Sandwich food truck will donate 50 percent of lunch sales all week to the Red Cross. For more information, go to facebook.com/clubsandwichwaco.
Donations of toiletries and first-aid items are being taken by the Faith In Action Initiatives in Central Texas, said Deke Jones, media relations manager at Baylor Scott & White Hospital.
Residents can donate to the hospital’s program at 2911 Herring Ave. Organizers ask that items be placed in one-gallon, sealable plastic bags. Requested items include soap, lotion, shampoo, deodorant, washcloths, combs, brushes, facial tissue, shaving cream, razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and feminine hygiene products.
As of Monday morning, Lorena Independent School District had enrolled one student displaced by Hurricane Harvey, Superintendent Joe Kucera said. But the district is preparing for more and should have a clearer picture of the number of displaced students that might come in after Labor Day, he said.
“At this moment in time, I don’t know it’s a huge issue yet. I think we’ll wait and see,” Kucera said. ”I think everyone’s still surveying the damage. I’m not sure people have made decisions about what they’re going to do.”
Lorena ISD will host a supply drive for Hurricane Harvey victims, Kucera said. The district will collect paper goods, diapers and more to send down to relief areas immediately and school supplies to send later, he said.
Several other area school districts, from Moody ISD to Waco ISD, are also stepping up to help with relief efforts as they wait to see how many displaced students may come in, school officials said.
China Spring ISD will partner with Lorena ISD during a varsity football game Friday in Lorena to collect as much as possible for the American Red Cross’s relief efforts, Superintendent Marc Faulkner said.
And Waco High School student organizations will also be hosting a gently used clothes drive through Friday. Donors are welcome to drop off clothes at the school’s front office, room 206 or class officers or sponsors for the Class of 2018, the National Honor Society or the art club, said Kyle DeBeer, Waco ISD’s new communications executive director.
Midway ISD will host several drop-off locations to collect water, Gatorade and hygiene products for more than 300 evacuees expected to arrive at the Latham Springs Youth Campus near Aquila, district spokeswoman Traci Marlin stated via email Monday.
“Midway ISD will very likely be involved in recovery relief with partner school districts once the schools are able to assess what assistance they need,” Marlin stated. “Our community has such a generous heart for those in need; it’s just very early to know where exactly to direct everyone’s good intentions. We are working actively with open lines of communication with multiple Houston and Gulf Coast superintendents. In addition, preliminary plans for donations or volunteer needs are also being discussed with Waco-area companies like Romark who have offered to help.”
More than 250 people arrived Friday and another 145 were en route Monday, said Mike Wilson, CEO of Latham Springs Camp and Retreat Center. Evacuees ranged from five years old to 81 at the facility that has a bed capacity of 900, he said. The center has opened its doors to evacuees during past hurricanes, he said. Local churches are donating water, hygiene items, and other supplies to those who have arrived with nothing but the clothes on their back, he said.
Volunteers at Latham Springs are working to also keep the groups entertained, including movie showings and fishing extensions at the facility’s lake, he said.
“Obviously this is what we do,” he said. “It’s harder on them.”
Live Oak Classical School student Levi Hobbs, 15, has arranged for donations for Hurricane Harvey victims to be accepted at Hobbs Bonded Fibers, 200 S. Commerce Drive, in Waco. Donations of food, water, hygiene items, baby food, diapers, and pet supplies can be taken to the location between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Hobbs’ mother, Stacy Hobbs, of Moody, said they have a semi truck they will fill with donations to take to Houston.
“If we need to take more than one truck, we’re happy to do it,” she said.
Local McLennan County first responders are volunteering their time in recovery efforts for hurricane-affected areas.
Bruceville-Eddy Police Chief Bill McLean said after seeing ongoing coverage of Hurricane Harvey’s effect in South Texas, he took the initiative to extend a helping hand to affected police agencies. The chief and a local police corporal took supplies and resources and traveled to the Rockport Police Department early Monday morning.
“In watching the news yesterday and seeing everything that is going on in Houston, Rockport, Freeport, Corpus Christi, I am not an idle type of person, so I got on the phone, spoke to a couple of council members and they thought it was a great idea,” he said. “I went and spoke to the mayor and he thought it was a great idea, so we packed up late yesterday evening and hit the road this morning.”
McLean said he plans to help with recovery and patrol efforts in the damaged area for at least a week. He said he will also help with call volume and assisting other police agencies.
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said several off-duty officers are also volunteering their time to help with recovery efforts near Houston. He said officers are taking vacation and off-duty time to help with rescue effort on an as-needed basis.
McLennan County Sheriff’s Office deputies are volunteering off-duty time to help with emergency response in the Houston-area, Sheriff Parnell McNamara said.
Hewitt Police Chief Jim Devlin said Central Texas residents looking to donate items to recovery victims can donate new and unopened items at the Hewitt Police Department until 5 p.m. Tuesday. Items include diapers, formula, underwear for children and adults, baby wipes, feminine products, canned food and nonperishable food items, blankets and toiletry items. Devlin said items will be taken to the Vista Community Church in Temple and will be distributed to the Bell County Expo Center for evacuees.
Staff writers Shelly Conlon and Kristin Hoppa contributed to this article.