By Editor Terry Hagerty
While the two more recent Atlantic hurricanes – Maria and Irma – pummeled the Caribbean islands and Florida, Texas’ Gulf Coast and some inland areas are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey’s landfall on Aug. 25-26. Several Bastropians were among the thousands of volunteers who traveled to ravaged areas to help out. Bastrop musician Jimmy Watts saw first-hand the destruction and resulting chaos from Harvey. He said he had decided to take his truck and a friend’s boat down to the Beaumont/Port Arthur area to help. He said he flew in a Blackhawk helicopter and saw scenes that still haunt him.
Helping the ‘Cajun Navy’ – “We were trying to get to my cousin’s place in Alvin, but people kept asking us for help, so we stopped,” Watts said of the efforts of he and his friend John, the soundman in the Watts Brothers Band. They had brought John’s 14-foot flat-bottom boat. “We kept trying to get back to Bastrop after a while, but the ‘Cajun Navy’ wanted our help,” Watts said, referring to volunteer boatmen from Louisiana. “Every day was crazy, we didn’t sleep for about three days.” Food was scarce. “I stood in line at a Dollar General for four cans of beans – they were really good cold pork and beans. We were there to give food to other people who were a lot worse off than us,” Watts said. Sleep was fitful: “We tried sleeping in our truck – it wasn’t happening. We found a Motel 6, by a miracle. The bottom floor was flooded.” At one point Watts rode in a Blackhawk helicopter to direct rescuers to the location of people he had previously spotted who had sought refuge in an animal shelter in the Sour Lake area, near Beaumont. “That rescue happened at midnight,” Watts said. It was an intense scene all around. “We saw a couple of deceased people. We went on some body recoveries with police and the Cajun Navy.” And there were looters about. “I carried a weapon of my own,” he added.
Other Bastropians Help – Sumai Lokumbe, who lives near downtown Bastrop, found a way to help out, too. Lokumbe helped collect local donations dropped off at the Bastrop Convention Center and also headed to La Grange to help out. The town experienced severe flooding. “I helped out at a distribution center, Second Chance Emporium,” she said. Lokumbe felt a call to help out. “I feel bad sitting home in my warm safe environment while other people are displaced and suffering from the hurricane. It felt rewarding to be there helping out, because it was heartbreaking to see people sleeping on cots inside the First Baptist Church” in La Grange, she said.
Businesses Help Out – Bastrop H-E-B continues to assist hurricane victims. The store has sign at the checkout stands that says, “Helping Here – Provide critical aid to those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Ask your cashier to add a $1, $3 or $5 donation to your grocery bill.” The sign says that 100 percent of the funds will be given to the American Red Cross, Feeding Texas and the Salvation Army. Jolene Jaehne, branch manager with Bastrop’s Sente Mortgage, said in an email, “In the first days of (Harvey) we raised funds for members of our Sente family that were impacted by the storm. Our Austin and San Antonio regions sent truckloads of supplies for those in shelters and we are back closing and funding loans throughout Houston.” Jaehne said if people are wondering the impact of storm damage, “in terms of their mortgage,” they can check out the Sente Mortgage website, which also has links to other sites.