Pulling their pickup truck ahead of the Cajun Navy, Shreveport natives Steve and Dave (not their real names) made rapid time down to Baytown Texas Monday night. The pair had been hired by a private contractor to provide security and assist in search in rescue. “Two of the three shopping centers owned by the company had already been looted by Monday night,” Steve said.
The two army vets are no strangers to disasters. Steve, who saw combat while in Iraq with the Louisiana National Guard, has been deployed to three previous hurricanes. “I have a set of skills that are particularly useful during an emergency,” he said.
Arriving late Monday night, Steve and Dave ran into 6 inches of floodwater on the highway. The roads were almost completely shut down, and a local police officer escorted them the rest of the way. “That’s when we first started seeing signs of the devastation,” Dave said. When the pulled into a shopping center parking lot that was to be their new home, they found themselves trapped by rising waters. “The bridge we came in on was completely underwater by the time we settled in,” Steve said.
They lived out of their pickup truck, swapping guard rotation and trying to stay dry. “It rained constantly,” said Dave, who estimated the waters rose by 18 inches each day. They spent their first night getting a feel for the area and watching Coast Guard Helicopters evacuate near by Methodist Hospital. “Going in as civilians gave us more leeway into how we conducted our operations”, Steve said.
In the morning they were greeted by a neighborhood girl, who took it upon herself to bring the pair breakfast every morning. “She made sure we always had enough to eat,” Dave said. The two were astonished by the resiliency of the neighborhood. “Everyone who had a skill that could be used was doing that skill.” Neighbors were going out into the floodwaters on their small boats, plucking people who were trapped in their houses. The bar next door to the shopping center remained open, as well as the pizza parlor, both providing much-needed refreshment to search and rescue crews. “People down there were grim, but seemed positive,” Steve said.
Their situation became a bit more precarious as they received reports on Tuesday night of a fire had started at a nearby ammonia plant. They weren’t sure if they would be deployed to the area, but authorities decided to let the plant “free burn” after nine police officers were injured attempting to gain entry to the plant.
Luckily, the remainder of their time in Baytown was relatively uneventful. Assisting where they could, and interacting with the locals. “Everyone was very appreciative of us being there”, said Steve. Their contract ended Thursday night. The water had receded enough to allow for the pair to egress. They packed their gear up and said goodbye to their new friends and headed back to North Louisiana. As Hurricane Irma approaches the United States, the two vets are getting ready to go out again.
“Absolutely we’d go if there was a need”.