Recent hurricanes have battered the south eastern portion of the United States. We have seen the images, many of us know someone that has been effected, and some of us have donated food, money, or blood to do what we can to lend a hand. A few local heroes went all out and traveled into the disaster first hand to save people from imminent danger. Among these individuals is Jerry Hughes.
Jerry started his week just like he does every Monday. As the owner and trainer at Hughes Training & Nutrition, Jerry starts hits the gym early. On the Monday morning following the landfall of Hurricane Harvey, while at the gym, Jerry kept feeling a nudge that he attributes to God telling him to go to Houston. Jerry called his fiancee and told her of his plans to head toward Houston. Wasting no time, they went to Academy Sports for a water raft.
Jerry got wind that several people were launching their water crafts in Dickinson Texas, so he headed that way with his jet ski, raft, and whatever last-minute tool he could grab. They hit heavy rain about College Station and ventured down highway 490 until they hit a wall of parked cars. “It was about 30 miles north of Houston”, Jerry said. “We didn’t want to waste a lot of time trying to backtrack and find other routes so we put the jet ski in the water thinking we might find people in that area we could help”. Jerry was right. Just about 300 yards in, they came to a 16 foot overpass that was barely peeking from the water and immediately saw a problem. Maybe 15 feet from the overpass, three men clung to a tree, in danger from the fast flowing water below. “The overpass created a vortex and the water was sucking things under”, Jerry explained. He later found out that one of the gentlemen in the tree brought his boat from Stephenville to help rescue people and lost his boat to the sucking overpass that was now trying to consume them. The boat was found days later, mangled and resting upside down in the mud.
There were people trying to rescue the men. A video online shows a crew of firefighters trying to extend an aluminum ladder above the rushing water toward the tree, but no attempt proved to be less dangerous than what the men were already experiencing. “
Hughes scanned the surroundings to find a way to gain access to the men in order to free them. The current was too strong to risk the jet ski, so he took his raft and teamed up with some guys on a railway bridge that seemed to be floating on the 16 feet deep water. Tying a rope around his waist, Jerry entered the water and instructed the men on the tracks to do their best to anchor him while he made his way with the raft down current to the tree. He knew that panic would be the biggest threat so, upon reaching the tree, he kept the raft between himself and the victims.
Minutes before Jerry had arrived, one of the guys clinging to the tree trunk looked to the other men and requested “Call my wife and tell her I love her. I can’t hold on much longer”. He was a big man that had thrown his back out in the incident. When Jerry arrived at the tree everyone agreed that he go first. Keeping the raft as a buffer, Jerry instructed the victim step by step, keeping him calm and cooperative, until they were pulled back to the tracks.
Using the same technique, Jerry returned to the tree to retrieve the second man. The first words out of his mouth was “Please don’t let me die. I have four kids”. The men were exhausted and terrified. Jerry said, “The most jarring part of it was that I had never seen someone feeling like they were on the brink of death and had planned out their end with such emotion”.
After two successful trips, the last man in the tree felt confident when his turn came. This was the man from Stephenville that lost his boat. With his retrieval complete, all the men stood on the tracks relieved and thanking God for their lives. “This all happened within 15 minutes of us getting there and putting the jet ski in the water”, says Hughes. To Jerry, the timing was evidence that it was God nudging him to go and be there in time to save these men that were about to give up hope.
In the five days that they were in the south Texas area, they made several other rescues, but these three men seemed unique in Jerry’s mind due to the urgency and timeliness. They made their way around the area doing what they could. With the Zello app (walkie talkie), they could hear people calling out for help and said it was heart breaking. People would call out their address requesting and begging for assistance. “We heard some sad things. There was one guy stuck in a horse trailer and he would say it’s up to his waist, it’s up to his chest, it’s up to his neck. He would beg people to get to his address. We tried to get to there and drove through water deeper than we should have, but we couldn’t make it.”
Some areas were closed to rescues due to body recoveries. Elderly were calling out because they were in wheel chairs. The need was great. Jerry said that they didn’t get much sleep but adrenaline kept them going. “I never understood when rescue teams would say ‘we can’t get to them’. How is that possible?”, Jerry wondered. Now, because he has first-hand knowledge of rescue efforts, he knows today, “Everything becomes an island and everything is disconnected. Sure, you can use your boat or jet ski, but then you run into land and you can’t get around it and you can’t carry it over. Everywhere you go you run into a dead end.”
Jerry said that the scene was terrible, but he found hope and encouragement in the unity and compassion that was on display. “Nobody cared who was poor, rich, black, or white. Nobody cared at all. You’re getting in the water and looking for any human being that you can possibly get to.” They met people all the way from Oklahoma who were there to help. Jerry ended with “That is the world that we live in. The picture that the media is always painting is not where we live.”
Jerry remains in contact with the man from Stephenville and they plan on meeting for dinner soon. This world can be an ugly place, but humanity shines bright when our neighbors are in danger. Thank you, Jerry, and all the other compassionate souls, for risking your lives and property to save others.