Seth Austin was supposed to start his senior year at Texas A&M University at Galveston on Monday, but classes were canceled due to tropical storm Harvey.
Instead, Austin is going from one hardware store to another in search of plastic tarps, batteries and food as he braces for flooding in his hometown of Lake Jackson, Texas, about 60 miles south of Houston.
It’s the second day in a row that the 21-year-old has been on the move in the wake of the devastating storm. On Sunday, Austin and his brother set out some 40 miles north to Galveston County to aid in search and rescue efforts. Officials there put out a call for boats to help people trapped in their homes, and Austin was one of many volunteers to show up.
By the time he headed home at nightfall, he had rescued four families, or more than a dozen people. A CNN crew assisted in one of those rescues and captured it on camera. Now he’s looking out for his own family, as the county he lives in prepares for more rainfall and flooding.
“I saw an area where I could help, so I went,” he said. “Now the work continues at home.”
Austin and his younger brother saw Galveston County’s call for flat-bottom boats on Sunday. He hitched his boat to his truck and headed to a meeting point outside Houston to get his orders. Flooded roads turned what would normally be an hour-long drive to a 90-minute journey, but eventually they made it.
From there he was dispatched to another meeting point on Interstate 45 that was serving as a launch pad for boats. He trawled through neighborhoods in his 16-foot aluminum flat-bottom searching for signs of life amid the submerged homes. Most of what he could see were rooftops; some homes still had the porch lights on from the night before. Cars floated in driveways.
On his first trip, he picked up a couple and their young daughter near a subdivision entrance. The young girl was in tears and the husband was shaking as he asked Austin to bring them to their home to rescue their dogs. Austin said he dropped off the man’s wife and daughter before returning to their partially submerged home. The man entered through a second floor window and emerged with their two dogs.
On his second trip, he found a group of people clustered in front of a neighbor’s home on high ground. He carried two families in two separate trips to avoid riding too low.
On his fourth and final trip of the day, he brought CNN correspondent Ed Lavandera to the Bayou Chantilly neighborhood near Dickinson Bayou. They circled the quiet neighborhood five or six times and were about to leave when they heard Pam Jones call out for help, and came back to rescue her and her parents.
By then it was almost dark, and Austin headed back to Lake Jackson. There was more work to be done the next day.
In June 2016, Brazoria County was hit hard by heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding as the Brazos River surged. Austin said many of his neighbors had only recently finished rebuilding. Today’s forecast threatens more of the same.
As rain fell Monday, the Brazos River climbed toward a major flood stage, county officials said. Oyster Creek, roadside ditches and low-lying areas are full of rain. The soil is saturated from the downpour of the past three days. County offices and roads across the county are closed in anticipation of surging flood waters.
The home Jackson lives in with his parents and two siblings is one of few areas on higher ground that are not under threat, he said. But he worries for his neighbors.
“It’s on its way. It’s happening right now. People are starting to see water creep into their yards,” Austin said. “It’s really devastating to think that people who just finished rebuilding might have to go through that again.”