HOUSTON — Following the tragic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey near Houston, Jeff Nelson Jr. felt God tugging at his heart and urging him to respond. With the support of friends, funds were quickly raised to purchase a boat so he could aid residents stranded by the rising waters.
During his day-to-day life, Nelson works as a commercial insurance broker and has no rescue training. However, he does have a vast experience with boats and even served, briefly, as a volunteer firefighter for about two years while in college.
“We went down Monday morning and took the boat with us and supplies. We rescued 100 people in the Fleetwood subdivision of Houston. The water started out at four feet that morning and it was about 12 feet when we left,” Nelson said. “My last trip back I had seven people in the boat and we sank the boat. We had too many people in it. We were only about 100 yards from dry ground, thank goodness.”
Nelson stated that he was able to use a winch to get the boat back onto dry land. He then got the motor back up and running, and when back out to look for more people.
“We went and rescued another couple in another neighborhood that had texted a friend of mine. That night we went and got a lady in her 80s and her two dogs. We ended up losing the boat rescuing her,” Nelson explained.
“Something hit the motor on the boat and killed the motor. We were in a really strong current, going against it.”
Nelson said they had to abandon the boat but used a rope tied around their waists to make it back to dry ground.
After the boat sank for the second — and final — time, Nelson and others continued rescue efforts with vehicles.
“We continued to reach out to people that we knew via text message because there were some elderly people that could not walk out,” Nelson noted. “The water was not deep enough to where you had to have a boat. But they were scared to walk because their footing is not as good as mine. So we drove around and got addresses via text messages and the telephone of who have loved ones that they needed help with. Then went and got them out.”
During his time in Houston, Nelson said there were many moments where kindness showed by residents stuck with him.
"I sat and waited with an old man who was waiting for a jet ski to come and get him. He asked me where I was from. I told him. He said, ‘you came all the way down here to do this?’ I said, ‘yeah,’” Nelson recalled. “I said to him, ‘if it was my family I would want someone to do the same thing.’ He told me, ‘When God decides that it is your time remind him that you have a lot of checkmarks by your name for doing this.”
Another moment that sticks out for Nelson was after rescuing an elderly black woman in her 80s and her two dogs.
“I don’t know her name but she hugged me and she said, ‘you saved my life. I will never be able to thank you enough,’” Nelson stated. “That is what it is all about.”
Nelson said one of the things that he witnessed that was really inspiring is how everyone came together to help and showed compassion for their fellow person. If someone had a skill or resource, it was given freely to help everyone.
“It was really an eye opening experience. I have to turn the news off because I want to go back down there. I think I used my nine lives while I was down there,” Nelson remarked. “I have reached out to a couple of friends of mine that live in Orange, which is close to Beaumont. I am on call. If he needs me I will be down there.”
Nelson’s wife, Lee, said he husband has a heart for people and always wants to help where he can.
“While he is hesitant about being in the spotlight for what he would consider a small contribution and one anyone would do - it is not at all surprising to me as he truly has a servants heart and has done countless good deeds over the years,” Lee said. “He is known for pulling off the highway in an ice storm to help pull stranded motorists out, stopping to offer someone water or help change their tire, give cash or the shirt off his back for someone in need, and even stop in the middle of a highway to rescue a turtle crossing the road - to name just a few."
Lee added that during the West explosion Nelson brought friends, family, and coworkers together to fill up a horse trailer with supplies.
Nelson encourages people to show compassion for others in their daily lives.
“I think that the world is lacking a lot of it. I think that we all need to accept each other for who we are. At the end of the day we are all made by God right, wrong or indifferent,” Nelson said. “We are all God’s children. He calls us to love each other. I don’t think your color matters or your social economic status matters or your disability. We are all made by him for a reason.”
He also wants to encourage people to continue to make donations to non-profits working in the affected areas because the need is so great.
“I would encourage anyone that can to do what they can to help those people out,” Nelson stated. “God forbid that this community that goes through a catastrophe like that. We would want the same thing.”