In Hurricane Harvey's wake, St. Helens man heads to Texas
Columbia County residents are stepping up to help victims affected by severe flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Eric Heassler, a St. Helens resident, said he felt drawn to help those in need and was deeply moved by an all-call from the Houston Police Department on Twitter, Sunday, Aug. 27, for people with boats to help with rescue efforts.
After just two days of planning and coordinating supply donations, he departed Wednesday on a 2,300-mile drive to Texas with a friend to volunteer.
Heassler left for Texas with two boats in tow to aid rescue efforts. As an experienced fisherman, he said he plans to use his expertise in logistics and planning to help with search and rescue efforts and to coordinate efforts between other volunteers.
Heassler said he doesn't have any personal connection to Texas, but said after watching the news for several days and seeing so many people in need, he felt like he couldn't sit still anymore.
"I'm seeing posts that are just minutes old on Twitter of people asking for help, and me just sitting at home and wishing I could do something wasn't cutting it for me," Heassler said. "I wanted to do something that would take direct action."
Relying on social media posts, Heassler solicited donations of personal hygiene items, dehydrated food packages, life jackets and other supplies. One Columbia County couple donated a 10-foot-long jon boat, a type of flat-bottomed craft used for fishing and hunting, for his use.
Once they were on the road, Heassler was able to purchase an 18-foot aluminum jet boat called a Duckworth powered by a 200 horsepower motor, from a private seller in Silverton.
Heassler has also made connections with Brian Evans, out of the Overland Emergency Response Network, an aide group based out of Hillsboro, to shuttle supplies to Texas later on. Evans is also making connections with Holly Haebe of the Columbia County based Community Emergency Response Team, which is trained in emergency and disaster aid.
After seeing her husband troubled and disheartened by the situation in Texas, Erick's wife, Gea Heassler, encouraged him to make the trek.
"I think it's awesome," Gea Heassler said. "He has the time to do it and it's such a huge concern for him, so it made sense for him to go."
Heassler and his friend Lee Hansen, of Portland, left Wednesday. While the two men have yet to make contact with local authorities in the Houston area and are unsure what they might encounter when they arrive, Heassler sees it this way — he has to help in some way and will have a 36-hour drive to make connections.
Several other groups of private citizens in Texas and Louisiana have also banded together to bring boats to the area to help with search efforts. Calling themselves the "Texas Navy" and the "Cajun Navy," respectively, Heassler has adopted a similar moniker and is calling his duo the "Cascadian Navy."
Heassler and his buddy aren't the only ones making the trek to Texas to offer help. St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss confirmed Tuesday that another county resident, who is a Community Emergency Response Team volunteer, was also organizing a trip.
Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast Saturday, Aug. 26, as a Category 4 hurricane. Massive flooding in the Houston area has caused more than 30 fatalities so far, and has
left thousands of others homeless.
A record 51.8 inches of rainfall was reported in Cedar Bayou in Harris County, Texas. The city is located 30 miles from downtown Houston.
With the remnants of the storm still hovering over the area as a tropical depression, more rainfall was expected later this week.