Texas Guardsmen rescue 140 in Houston floods

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: April 21, 2016

Texas Guardsmen from the 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade, 36th Infantry Division work alongside local and state emergency responders to rescue Texans in need from severe flooding in Houston, Texas, April 19, 2016. Texas Guardsmen, working with Harris County emergency response units and Texas Task Force 1, rescued 140 people in five hours. (U.S. Army National Guard photo courtesy of 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade/Released)
Texas Guardsmen from the 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade, 36th Infantry Division work alongside local and state emergency responders to rescue Texans in need from severe flooding in Houston, Texas, April 19, 2016. Texas Guardsmen, working with Harris County emergency response units and Texas Task Force 1, rescued 140 people in five hours. (U.S. Army National Guard photo courtesy of 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade/Released)

HOUSTON – Texas Guardsmen from the 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Infantry Division, pulled 140 people to safety from severe flooding in Houston, April 19, 2016.

Working alongside Harris County Police officers, firefighters, Sheriff’s Office and Texas Task Force 1, guardsmen worked through the night to help Texans in need.

After linking up with partner emergency responders at the Harris County Fireman Training Center in Humble, the soldiers split up to provide assistance to severely flooded neighborhoods, sending half of their trucks to Ponderosa, a neighborhood located on the north side of Houston.

“We went into the water for about an hour and a half and came out with about 20 people,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Hoover, 736th Component Repair Company. “One of our other trucks stayed in the water until after 9 p.m. and pulled out 90 people.”

Each truck went out with officers from the Sheriff’s Office or the local police department and some also went with boat rescue squads from Texas Task Force 1.

“Our trucks can only go into 40 inches of water,” said Hoover, explaining that some of their trucks went out worked with rescue boats. “Task Force 1 boats would go ahead of us in their boats and bring them back to the truck, then we would bring them to dry land.”

The Emergency Medical Technicians, working with 9-1-1 dispatch, received addresses of distressed citizens, and passed the addresses on to guardsmen and firefighters so they could respond. 

“As we would go to the address, we would pick up others who needed help,” said Sgt. Allan Abel, 736th Component Repair Company. “We were supposed to stop at dark, but we got four priority calls just after dark and that took us a while because we kept filling up with people.”

Deep waters made military land navigation training important in their ability to help those in need.

“In some places we had to go light pole to light pole; there were essentially no markers,” said Abel. “Our training in hasty navigation and terrain association was hugely beneficial – that’s what we were doing.”

Texas National Guard high profile military vehicles were essential in rescue operations, said Chief Bob Royall, Assistant Chief of Joint Emergency Operations, Harris County Fire Marshall’s Office. The majority of first responder vehicles are unable to maneuver through such deep waters and many rescue boats are limited to holding about six people, said Royall. 

According to Abel, the military trucks were able to safely seat up to 25 people, in addition to the necessary soldiers and emergency first responders that accompanied each mission. 

“Many Harris County residents underestimated the dangers of rising flood waters; they lost all power and were cut off from society. Simple things like going to the doctor became very dangerous,” said Royall. “Had it not been for the National Guard’s high water vehicles, we would not have been able to get to many of these folks. There are untold hundreds, possibly thousands, we would not have been able to get to.”

Members of the community also worked to support rescue efforts. 

“We went to Tin Roof Barbecue in Humble with Task Force 1 for lunch, about 60 people, and the owner refused to let us pay,” said Hoover. “There are a lot of civilians out here doing really outstanding stuff, supporting the guard, the task force and the police. They make our work a lot easier.”

Throughout Harris County, and the state, people worked together to help those in need.

“I’ve always felt the need to serve,” said Abel. “This is my main driver, to be able to do things like this for my fellow Texans.”

To date, Texas Guardsmen have helped rescue 221 people and 41 pets from severe flooding in southeast Texas.