Johnathan Clements and Ryan Cormier knew Harvey was causing big problems for lots of people in Texas and they wanted to help. The SLEMCO linemen had seen a constant stream of trailered small boats headed south and west as they ran service calls following Hurricane Harvey’s initial landfall Aug 25.
“We’re just two Cajuns who want to help out as best we can,” said Cormier, an apprentice lineman with Lafayette-based Southwest Electric Membership Cooperative. “Last August, Vermillion Parish got flooded by torrential rains and people came to our aid, so it’s just fair to repay the favor.”
But the co-op’s service territory was in the path of the stalled storm even as it sat over South Texas, dumping more than 30 inches of rain over parts of 18 counties. Meteorologists warned it would eventually bring severe weather to southwest Louisiana, and co-op crews were being held to handle potential problems in that area.
Both men had flat bottomed boats trailered and parked as they waited for power outages they weren’t sure would occur.
“We knew that flood victims would need a lot of supplies, so we posted our plan on Facebook to let people know we were collecting donations,” said Clements, a SLEMCO journeyman lineman. “People started dropping stuff off at our houses and giving us stuff at work, and slipping us cash to buy more supplies.”
Harvey, still a tropical storm, made its second landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, Aug. 30, but caused few outage problems in SLEMCO’s service territory. When the two men were released from duty the next day, they immediately went shopping.
“We had baby food, disposable diapers, water, sports drinks and hygiene products for both men and women. We went on a real shopping spree,” said Cormier. “We had toys like small stuffed animals, crayons and coloring books.”
When store managers heard about their plan, they were happy to throw in a few cases of extra supplies. Many recalled personal hardships following southwestern Louisiana flooding in August 2016, or from previous storms like Rita and Katrina.
“I couldn’t fit anything else in my truck,” Cormier said. “We left immediately for the Port Arthur, Texas, area where we knew people would be needing help.”
They located a makeshift distribution center just outside of a flooded subdivision.
“We parked at a shopping mall, and started giving out stuff immediately,” said Clements. “There must have been 400 to 500 people out there picking up donated supplies.”
Once Cormier’s pickup was empty, the two began moving around the parking lot. They helped unload several trucks and trailers, sorting drinking water cases from cleaning supplies and passing out essential items to flood victims.
“We started helping out around 8:30 p.m., just after dark, and we didn’t stop until 3:30 the next morning. It was chaotic,” Clements said.
A steady stream of soaked families, including many who’d been rescued from flooded neighborhoods by boat, kept arriving at the lot to await transportation to shelters or the unflooded homes of friends or family.
“Devastation like this brings the country together,” said Cormier. “We had people coming in constantly, and everybody was really thankful to get anything they could get.”
Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.