David Clay is a geologist for Ames Energy in San Antonio, which is about 200 miles from Houston. And he’s an AAPG Young Professional member.
For the moment, that’s not important.
He has a boat.
For the moment, that is.
“Tim McGovern (another San Antonio-based geologist and AAPG Member) and I had a quick conversation,” Clay said, after they both saw horrendous images of people in need in and around Houston after Hurricane Harvey, “about how we both have boats but felt helpless in San Antonio without much direction on how to help.”
Clay also had a young baby at home, so he couldn’t very well bring his wife along while he went off to Houston to help strangers.
Or could he?
“About thirty minutes after discussing with Tim and realizing that it would be tough to figure out a way to get into Houston, Tim’s wife, Chelsea, calls me,” Clay recounted. “So you’re taking the boat to Houston? Let’s do this!”
That was settled in a hurry.
Clay’s wife, who would stay home with their baby and also encouraged him to go, posted on Facebook she needed vests, water and care packages, and that’s what they got. At 4 a.m. the next morning, Clay kissed his wife and his baby and left for Harris County, along with a group of fellow San Antonio geologists, including the McGoverns, Tanner Bowersox and others (some non-geologists).
Houston, We Have a Problem
“Upon getting the boat ready,” Clay said, “I realized that since last duck season I had not replaced the worn trailer tires, and had not attended to my trailered boat quite enough. The engine started up just fine, but the steering cable had rusted shut. The boat was useless if I couldn’t steer it.”
YouTube is a wonderful thing.
“I decided to unhook the steering wheel and cable from the motor. I then bolted on a three-foot piece of wood that would serve as the tiller. The boat was officially even more redneck approved than before! In fact, while out in the middle of Buffalo Bayou, a member of the Cajun Navy commended me on wooden tiller rig. It was the greatest compliment,” he related.
Clay, along with friends Nils Granger and Justin Brim, soldiered on.
OK, they limped on.
At the Home Depot in Seguin, Texas, Clay met up with the McGoverns, Bowersox and the rest.
“In Schulenburg, Texas (about 90 minutes from Houston), I realized,” said Clay, “the trailer tire was low and then upon filling it up, discovered that the tire tread had completely ripped off. So the boat was riding on two (worn) tires and one spare that only had half of the tread remaining on it too.”
“We prayed! We prayed and then kept on going,” said Clay.
And their prayers were answered.
Well, for about 15 minutes they were answered. Then the right tire blew.
It was 6.30 a.m. at this point and nothing was open.
Of course nothing was open.
Wait — something was.
“Finally found a tire shop in Sealy that was open and had an extra trailer tire. I told them to be ready for us! The shop ‘NASCAR’ed’ that boat trailer and we paid and were out in 10 minutes,” he said.
The Positivity of Human Nature
After meeting up again with the McGoverns, the trip continued.
“Driving in on I-10 the city (Houston), was quiet, but you really didn’t see much of the flooding since you are up on the interstate.”
Clay noticed about five other boats scrambling to find out how to help. FEMA officials, he said, weren’t of much help, but then Justin, one of this “shipmates,” got a lead from his Facebook newsfeed that said boats were immediately needed off of Memorial drive and Kirkwood.
Upon racing to the location, Clay said he and his crew “came to the intersection to a wall of water going down Kirkwood towards the bayou and a Cajun Navy member locked eyes with me, saw my boat and signaled for me to back in right there in the intersection.”
“We launched the boat, surveyed the area and tried to get a grasp of underwater obstacles: trees, stop signs, fire hydrants. My buddy Nils and I grew up in Houston and fortunately spent lots of time driving on Kirkwood. He knew every turn and median to cut through,” Clay added.
He continued, “We were instructed to go to the second bridge and pick up individuals and transport them back to higher ground. My depth finder was reading six to eight feet in the middle of Kirkwood. We got out into the bayou and at one point the depth was reading over 38 feet!”
“The section between the launch point and the second bridge had already been evacuated. It was (on) the other side of the second bridge where people were either wading to the bridge or being rescued and brought to the bridge. It was a rallying point for them to get picked up by us and transported down Kirkwood to higher ground. There were National Guard helicopters landing on the bridge 50 yards in front of us,” Clay explained.
He said the helicopter responders prioritized people with health risks “and then people would run underneath them across the bridge, then another would land.”
“That went on for hours it seemed like. By the time the early afternoon rolled around, there were about 40-plus boats on the water,” he added.
There were so many boats, in fact, the National Guard asked Clay and his crew to get out of the water. They did so and headed to NRG stadium to drop off the supplies they had gathered, but the facility was at capacity and could not take any more donations.
The stadium can hold and park up to 80,000 people. And it was full.
“You cannot grasp something of this magnitude happening,” he said.
Clay saw schools with no roofs, barns gone, power out, water shortages and other hallmarks of a natural disaster.
But he also saw something else.
“Every corner going through town had a barbecue pit, a grill or a mobile food truck helping feed people! It was something that brought tears to your eyes because there were people of all races and religions out there just to help others out. Grandparents passing out food or behind the grill. Their kids putting together barbecue plates and serving the sides and their kids passing out water. Generation to generation to generation showing their kids and grandkids what it means to serve others. It was incredible to see such giving people.”
And some of those giving people include people who never left San Antonio, but someone for whom he works, namely Gene Ames, III.
“I did not ask him to leave work, I simply told him I had to go and he was OK with that. In fact, without my knowing he sent out an email to a group of industry friends requesting donations to fund our efforts in Houston. There was such a willingness to donate to our expenses that I was able to donate the remaining funds to the RebuildTX Fund and the J.J. Watt Fund. We can call it the Geologist Houston Recovery Fund.”
Clay calls what he experienced, what he saw, “The positivity of human nature.”
“There is no judgment of your race, religion, age, sex or anything else. It was simply people helping people.”
Some you don’t know, some you do.
“My brother’s neighbors were in such an emotional state that they had no idea where to start the clean-up phase. Having three outsiders show up and throw out all of the ruined items that they couldn’t separate themselves must have been heartbreaking. All they could do was cry for a few minutes, get past it and start the cleanup process. They had no other option,” he said.
Clay went back to Houston the following week.