We will never forget Harvey

Published 9:25 am Monday, April 30, 2018

My anniversary night, Aug. 29, 2017.

We knew there would be rain and wind. But did we know there would be 5 feet of rain? Absolutely not.

Four days out, on Friday, Aug. 25th, The National Weather Service in Lake Charles predictions forecasted 10-20 inches of rain. Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane in Rockport, Texas.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Three days out, on Saturday, Aug. 26, The NWS forecasted that as Harvey returned to the Gulf, it would weaken in strength, becoming a Tropical Storm before making landfall in Southeast Texas. Rain totals decreased to 9-19 inches for Southeast Texas during a seven-day event.

Two days out, on Sunday, Aug. 27, the NWS forecasted Southeast Texas would see 10-20 inches of rain on Monday the 28th into Monday night. Jefferson County would see up to 6 inches of rain on Tuesday, the 29th, and up to 3 inches of rain on Wednesday the 30th.

On Monday, Aug. 28, the NWS reported that Southeast Texas had received 10-15 inches of rain at that point and would see an additional 18 inches through Friday, Sept. 1.

Early Tuesday, Aug. 29, the NWS reported an additional 10-15 inches of rain possible Tuesday.

At 4:55 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, the NWS reported Southeast Texas would see an additional 4-8 inches through Wednesday the 30th.

At 10 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, the NWS reported an additional 10-15 inches of rain would fall overnight. This ended up being 26 inches.

Total rainfall in some areas ultimately was more than 5 feet.

‘Water on the floor’

At 1 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3 … The words that still haunt me today: “There’s water on the floor.” My family had taken refuge in The Port Arthur News office on Memorial Boulevard the previous night. Our home in Dominion Ranch had received more than 2 feet of floodwater inside. At the time of the decision, The News office was dry so we had a family friend drive my wife, daughter, son-in-law, dog and cat to the office to spend the night.

At 2 a.m. the same morning, one of the last phone calls I was able to make was to my boss, Todd Carpenter. He picked up and I let him know that things had gone from bad to worse.

Knowing what we do now, would we have stayed there that night? Don’t know if I can answer that. Had we not, we would not have been able to save all the computers, servers and shut off circuit breakers which ultimately would have increased the damage and lengthened the timeframe for getting back into the office and becoming operational.

On the other side of that, where would we have gone? Everywhere we had previously discussed staying was under water as well. The decisions we make lead us to the inevitable outcome of any situation. And the decisions we made that night, led us to meet the most incredible of people.

7 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 30. After six hours of wandering around a building that was 3 feet deep in water, and multiple failed attempts wanting to be rescued by anyone, we decided to leave The News office and wade out onto Memorial. Where were we going to go? Heck, who knows, we were just trying to get out!

Help from new friends

Seemingly from out of nowhere, a pickup truck pulled up. In the bed of the truck was the family of the driver, a Hispanic family that didn’t speak any English. They called to us to get in the back. We did, and off we went. We were out of the water.

About a mile down the road, our saviors made a right-hand turn and pulled over to let us out in an area where the water was much lower. We gave our new friends a hug, and off they drove.

We were dropped off in front of the home of another Hispanic family that spoke a little more English than our previous friends, but not much. They invited us into their home, let us dry off, charged our cell phones and gave us water to drink. Where these people came from, I will never know. But God, I was grateful for them being placed in our path that day.

The remainder of the day was spent contacting friends, getting from one home to another until we found a place where we could stay for a few days. Our friends the Beards and Sweetenhams really took care of us that day.

Getting news out

What next? The news needed to be produced and put into the hands of citizens to help keep them informed as much as we could.

The great thing about working for a “real” newspaper company is there is always someone who has your back when times are tough. That 2 a.m. call to my boss ultimately ignited a series of other calls where leaders throughout the company jumped into action to help us get a newspaper out until we could do so ourselves.

For five editions, The Port Arthur News was put together in Natchez, Mississippi and printed in Lufkin, Texas. Employees and carriers that had not been overwhelmingly affected by the flooding delivered these publications free to the subscribers we could reach and to locations around town whereever citizens congregated.

Also through those five days, we looked for a place to work, settling on two locations. Our business advertising and composing departments worked out of the Orange Leader office in Orange. Our editorial department worked from home and a room at the Holiday Inn on Jimmy Johnson. The Holiday Inn room would probably have not happened without the help of Verna Rutherford of Motiva.

5 a.m. Sept. 5. We produced the first Port Arthur News publication locally.

Returning to normal

Over the next eight months, we all worked to bring a sense of normalcy back to our lives. Some 85 percent of our communities were affected. That means, 85 percent of the residents were affected — families, friends, neighbors and people we didn’t even know existed.

My story, and the story of The Port Arthur News, is not any different than yours and many others that lived through the days before, during and after Harvey. We all rebound, have compassion, help others in need and are Southeast Texas Strong. We are family.

This is why we wanted to dedicate our 2018 profile edition to you, the true Harvey’s Heroes. We will always remember Harvey and the tragedy it brought. But I hope what we will remember more, the greatness that we saw from our fellow man.

Rich Macke is publisher of The Port Arthur News.