Volunteers rescue residents trapped at Kingwood assisted-living home
KINGWOOD, Texas – The large tan 2 ½-ton truck slowly drove down Northpark Drive. For one of the few times that day, the truck was out of floodwaters. But there was still work to be done.
In the bed sat six people who needed help, and driver Steve Knight was as nervous as he’d been all day: more worried than when he traversed the massive truck through six feet of floodwaters; more nervous than watching rescue volunteers lift the residents of the Isle at Kingwood assisted-living facility in their wheelchairs and into the back of the truck to safety.
The pouring rain and wind drenched the passengers in the back. Knight drove at a snail’s pace, keeping the speedometer hovering somewhere around 18 mph, turning the six-mile drive into a 30-minute journey. He wanted to drive faster, to get the residents to shelter and out of the elements that forced them from their homes, but feared if he sped up and shifted into third gear, the truck would kick so hard it would scatter everyone seated in the back. Those six residents had already been through enough, he thought.
“They were soaking wet to the bone,” Knight said. “They literally came out of that place with the clothes on their back.”
It was Aug. 29, and Hurricane Harvey had finally caught up to Kingwood. Rainbands flooded streets; the nearby West Fork of the San Jacinto River toppled its banks. Behind the Isle at Kingwood, a river raged where there wasn’t supposed to be raging water. In front, floodwaters pooled four-feet deep in spots, which prevented anyone from going in or anyone coming out. Anyone except for those, like Knight, who own military vehicles built for such moments.
Knight’s truck is an M1078, a truck designed for the military to provide large transports. The 2 ½-ton truck is considered light duty for military standards, but it’s anything but—the wheels alone are four-feet tall, the cab sits another two-feet higher and a ladder is needed to climb into the six-foot-high bed. Knight often uses the truck to assist Green Zone Housing, a local non-profit organization that provides permanent homes for veterans who suffer from PTSD, where he’s a board member.
But when he heard of the devastation Harvey was causing across the Greater Houston area, he jumped in with two fellow Green Zone Housing members—Cory Dennis and Michael Johnson, each of whom owns similar trucks—and drove to help.
They met with Joel Sal Salazar with the Houston Police Department SWAT team. Salazar alerted them to the assisted-living residents. They joined other rescue volunteers with boats and began the slow process of saving those who couldn’t save themselves. One by one, volunteers lifted residents in their wheelchairs and into the back of Knight’s truck, where he’d then slowly cross the floodwaters to safety. From there, they were bussed to nearby shelters to get dry clothes, medical attention and a hot meal.
On the final rescue of the day, the busses were nowhere to be found, and Knight had knew his rescue mission wasn’t over—he had to get the six people seated in the back, scared and soaked, to shelter.
In all, Knight, HPD and the other volunteers helped rescue 156 people from inside the facility. There’s one thing Knight wants to make very clear.
“I’m not a hero,” he said. “All I did was drive.”
Knight said the real heroes are the people standing in the chest-high floodwaters directing the trucks where to go when murky water muddled view the road.
Salazar with HPD SWAT has high praise for all the volunteers.
“If it wasn’t for these volunteers, we wouldn’t have been able to save all the residents, many of whom were wheelchair bound,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Now Knight is in need of some help of his own.
Floodwaters did a number on his truck: ruining the transmission and causing other mechanical problems. Although the truck is made to pass through high water, it’s not made to sit in water, which it did for periods of time, he said.
He’s hoping to raise enough money to fix those issues so that when the next disaster strikes, “we’ll be ready,” he said.