HARVEY HEROES — Locals reflect of launching boats to save lives as waters rose

Published 12:42 am Saturday, June 25, 2022

Three days before Hurricane Harvey struck Southeast Texas, Commissioner Michael Sinegal was watching the television and praying as people in Dickinson were being rescued off a bridge.

“I never dreamed I’d be in the same situation,” he said. “Three days later, I’m in my home getting calls from people saying water is coming into their homes and they need to be rescued.”

His own home started taking in water.

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“To be honest with you, I went into a state of shock because I couldn’t believe water was coming into my home,” he said. “Once it reached the electrical outlets, shut the power off. Looking back, that was a dumb thing to do, but I know I was in a state of shock.”

As his family began moving items to the second story of the house, Sinegal started calling emergency management officials to help facilitate high-water rescues. And even as his grandkids began crying, begging him not to go out in the storm, the commissioner headed to the area of Central Mall to join rescue efforts.

Allen Parker, left, holds his fishing boat at a 9th Avenue apartment complex to rescue people from Harvey’s floodwaters. (Photo courtesy of Allen Parker)

On Chandelle Lane, Allen Parker also began to take water in his home on the night of Aug. 29, 2017, so he went across the street to his parents’ house — one of only two on the road that didn’t flood. But soon after, a friend called and said they had water in their house and couldn’t get out.

So Parker launched his 20-feet-long fiberglass fishing boat into his residential neighborhood.

“I didn’t know how deep it was,” he said. “I just went slow all the way around the neighborhood. It was the weirdest thing. You couldn’t see fire hydrants. You could not see the road.”

But as he made his way to Blackberry Lane, he could hear others crying out.

“Every trip there was somebody hollering for help,” Parker said. “One of them was a whole family. I think there were 12 people in my boat.”

From about 9 p.m. until 4 a.m., even as rain continued to fall and water continued to rise, he drove his boat through the streets of Port Arthur performing rescues.

Sinegal was helping put people in dump trucks to move them to a safe place.

(Photo courtesy of Allen Parker)

“All we could do was get them to high ground,” he said.

“We were preparing for a tidal surge. With hurricanes, the only thing we worried about was tidal surge. But that was a rain event that caught a lot of people by surprise.”

When Parker got back home, he slept for about two hours, and his wife posted on social media to find anyone in need of rescue. At 6 a.m., he was back in his boat, only this time in much higher water.

“Over off of Turtle Creek — that was one of the worst areas, Turtle Creek Drive and 9th Avenue. It was over the top of cars,” he said.

“You could drive your boat 20 miles an hour and it was like nothing. The only thing you had to watch out for was getting close to the mailboxes and the fire hydrants because you couldn’t always tell where the street was.”

Sinegal recalled seeing water over roofs, and said he thanks God there weren’t more deaths as a result from the storm.

But he still feels a personal loss. While they moved what they could to the second floor of his house, a box of photographs was left behind. He lost almost every photo of his mother, who died the following June.

“I’m hoping and praying it never happens again,” he said.

“If someone told me I could ride a boat from 39th Street to Thomas Boulevard in Port Arthur, I would have told them it was a lie. I could write a book about that night because it was so scary.”