WAXAHACHIE — Heroes do not always require a cape or badge. After Hurricane Harvey made landfall and brought with it trillions of gallons of devastating water, one local hero came to the rescue — in an airboat.
“I got some calls from some folks that were needing help and I happened to have an airboat,” began Tres Atkins, owner of Waxahachie’s Atkins Seafood. “So I left Sunday and it was a nightmare to get down there, it took about 12 hours to get from here to Santa Fe, Texas, and then I got with a few buddies of mine and went to Galveston.”
Atkins also owns a fishing business in Galveston, operating boats to supply his Waxahachie storefront with fresh fish from the gulf. The experience as a boat captain and maneuvering through rough waters is what led him to help in Houston.
“My wife was my copilot, and she was on the phone for hours while I was driving. She had her laptop, iPad, and computer up and running. She made her own little dispatch center, and she navigated me through it all,” he added.
Driving toward the nation’s fourth largest city, Atkins recalled power outages and major roadways consumed by water, moving through Dickinson, Friendswood, parts of south Houston, and later arriving in Harris County.
“The Sherriff’s office in Harris County escorted us into Kingwood near Humble because that’s where the really bad flooding was,” Atkinson explained.
“I can’t really describe it, it’s indescribable,” he thought over his experience. “It was devastation. Houses completely under water, people cutting their way out of their attics, cars flooded, it’s a lot to process through.”
Atkins’ group coordinated with local law enforcement and a collection of first responders through areas with swift, high-level waters thanks to his shallow-bottomed airboat.
“The water getting into some of these places was deep, and we were working mostly with bayous and river systems,” Atkins articulated. “We went there because airboats do well in a lot of debris. Propeller motor boats can’t get in there, and it’s a lot more dangerous for them.”
Harvey was not the maiden voyage for Atkins as a first responder in his boat — he also endured Hurricane Ike in 2008.
“I was at ground zero during Ike from day one,” Atkins remembered of the tropical cyclone. “I didn’t see my family or kids for a couple of months, and as far as storm surge and devastation, it was really bad — but this [Harvey] is going to be worse.”
Alongside the coastguard and the army’s efforts, Atkins and other noble Texans rescued countless survivors on-scene.
“We rescued this fireman out of a sub station and had no way of getting out,” Atkins said. “They tried to send a truck out after him, but the water had gotten too high. There were big duce-and-a-half’s that were coming down to the areas we could get to, and dropping them off there.”
Over its course, the Category 4 hurricane poured over 50 inches of rain. The Houston Patch reports that there were 3,500 water rescues performed by Houston police, fire, and the United States Coast Guard (not including private citizen rescues). There were also 5,000,000 meals provided by FEMA and 32,000 residents evacuated safely.
“I lost count of how many people we helped,” Atkins admitted. “But what we did was so minor compared to what the donations will do.”
After being sent home after a job well-done by Harris County officials, Atkins didn’t stop his rescue mission there. Instead, he has brought the mission back to Waxahachie.
“We’re still gathering things and taking it out there,” Atkins confirmed. “I’ve got trucks that are coming out of Houston two or three days a week on a normal basis, so we’re going to be doing this campaign for as long as it takes.”
“A lot of things people are bringing are things they don’t need and already have,” he noted. “It’s not that they’re not going to need them later, but right now they need the essentials. We’re just trying to do the things I know I needed when I was in that situation with Ike."
Posting a list on Facebook last Wednesday, residents have been more than generous to accommodate Atkins’ rallying operation.
“Taking care of the little ones is always first, like diapers, baby food, and formula," Atkins listed. "Then we’ve asked for feminine products for the ladies, and we’re also asking for cleaning supplies like bleach, paper towels, and trash bags."
Atkins goes on to list everyday hygiene products, household and cleaning items, nonperishable foods, and kid items. Among the items needed, bleach, in particular, is in short supply for cleaning mold and mildew throughout the walls of flooded homes.
“Of course we’ll update the list as time changes it, via Facebook, and we have a list on the front door and check the list even if we’re not open. So people can come to Atkins Seafood to the back door during business hours and bring what’s on our specific list,” he included.
Helping where he’s at, Atkins encourages the community to stay calm and donate to those in need by volunteering at shelters, giving to a trusted charity with “boots on the ground," and donate helpful items to those in need.
“In any disaster, it’s all about getting people coordinated because right now people are running around and they just need to take a breath because everybody knows they want to help, there’s no questioning that - it’s about getting organized and maximizing that effort,” Atkins encouraged.
“The support has been phenomenal around town, and we’ve had tons and tons of people reach out to us saying, ‘What can we do? How can we help?’ And it’s really cool,” he emphasized. “It’s paramount that communities come together and help, and Waxahachie has done that.”
To see the list of items and donate to Houston survivors, visit facebook.com/atkinsseafood or stop by at Atkins Seafood for a list posted on the front door, located at 300 Ferris Avenue. For more information, visit atkinsseafood.com or call (214)-463-5490.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer