Teen Volunteer Recalls Harvey Flood Rescue Operation

19 year old Bailey Perez was eager to help well before Hurricane Harvey hit the shore. In anticipation or dangerous flooding, he teamed up with a group of other guys who were coordinating a boat rescue crew. The team consisted of Austin Hucks, US Coast Guard, of Houston; Cole Cash O’Neal of Fort Worth; Brennan Covington, 16, of Port Neches; and Nick Digiobanni, 18, of Houston.

Hurricane Harvey rescue
Bailey Perez navigates Hurricane Harvey flood waters.

At that time, early forecasts were predicting around 33” of rain, an amount that would have caused problems in neighborhoods prone to flooding. It wasn’t until later that anyone imagined Texas would be deluged under a record 33 trillion gallons of water as Harvey circled the coast for days on end.

“On Friday, the day before Harvey hit, we spent the whole day getting ready,” recalls Bailey. “We prepped two boats and got our supplies in order. We knew what was going down.”

Sure enough, Brays Bayou, White Oak Bayou, and Buffalo Bayou all overcame their banks, badly flooding surrounding streets, homes, and businesses.

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“During that first day out, we went up and down Brays Bayou,” Bailey says. “This was very early on. There were no other boats we could see besides us, but the water was already around eight feet deep in some neighborhoods. We started pulling people out of their homes, taking them to safety, then going back for more.”

Before long, Bailey and his team heard a helicopter approaching. As it came into view, they recognized it as the US Coast Guard.

Hurricane Harvey rescue
A US Coast Guard helicopter crew assisting in search and rescue efforts during Hurricane Harvey.

“They motioned to us,” Bailey says. “It was very loud and difficult to tell what they were trying to communicate. We pointed them toward where we were finding people. By this time, people were climbing up onto their roofs because the water was so deep, and rising deeper very quickly. The Coast Guard started pulling people off their roofs by helicopter.”

But rising water wasn’t the only danger Bailey and his team encountered.

“At one point, as the Coast Guard helicopter was getting low to rescue some folks,” Bailey explained, “the wind from their helicopter knocked a dead branch out of a tree which nearly hit our boat.”

During the following days, Bailey and his team headed to northeast Houston, where they saw some of the most devastating flooding in that area.

“That whole of northeast Houston up by Kingwood was just awful,” Bailey said. “We went up around Lake Houston and through Kingwood. It’s really hard to say, but between our two boats, and a few apartment buildings we helped evacuate, I’d guess in all we helped upwards of 300 people get out.”

Hurricane Harvey rescue
Evacuees from flooded apartment buildings approach Baileys boat.

Following their exploits in the Houston area, the team was contacted by the Cajun Navy, who invited them to assist rescue efforts in Port Arthur. While the rain had finally stopped, flood waters were still dangerously high in many areas, and impassable by most vehicles.

In order to navigate high waters, Bailey and his friends rigged his Ford F-150 truck with a snorkel so the engine wouldn’t flood and stall. When asked how he finagled this, Bailey responded, “Redneck innovation!”

Check out Bailey’s Video:


On their way to Port Arthur, as the team neared Beaumont, flooding became so severe that they couldn’t make it through. The team spent the night at Vidor Fire Station #2, right near Rose City, which to this day sits under several feet of water.

“When we got to Beaumont,” said Bailey, “the police were handing out body bags to the rescuers. I never personally found any bodies, but the other teams I talked to did. There were a number in Vidor.”

All in all, Bailey and his team spent an exhausting eight days in the Vidor, Port Arthur, and Beaumont area conducting search and rescue operations.

“I was physically and mentally exhausted by the end,” said Bailey. “I was bitten by dozens of fire ants and spiders, stung by wasps, and I almost got ran over by a boat. We ended up having to call in massive amounts of antibiotics because a lot of the guys were getting sick from exposure to the flood water. It was really contaminated.”

And the guys had to get creative while down there. Gas stations were out of gas or underwater. Grocery stores were flooded. All their supplies while they were there had to be brought with them or to them, and any vehicles that broke down needed to be fixed on the fly.

Hurricane Harvey rescue
Bailey Perez and his friend, Austin Hucks of the US Coast Guard boat through a flooded intersection in NE Houston.

“I’m not a hero,” says Bailey, when asked why he decided to volunteer. “I’m a kid with a boat who couldn’t stand to sit around and play video games. My friends put themselves on the line, and I put myself on the line, knowing exactly what could happen in the swift water out here. When you know people need help, you’ve got to do something.”

And even after several weeks of volunteering in dangerous, flooded, and filthy conditions, Bailey still wants to do more.

“I’m creating a search and rescue unit,” he says. “I’ve created a GoFundMe page. All donations will go towards purchasing several swift water boats, fixing up a large lifted truck for towing and transport, a trailer, rescue gear, and our team members taking rescue classes. When the next flood occurs, we want to be ready to help even more people.”

And he’s already set the gears in motion. Bailey has managed to secure a home base for his team where they can store their equipment and launch rescue operations.

“Already, one amazing person has donated a facility in Houston for the use of our unit, where we can store our boats, equipment, and create a staging area. We will also be able to stay there during the storm so we can deploy immediately. I refuse to sit around and watch Houstonians and our neighbor states suffer due to lack of on-the-ground help in situations when time is so critical. My goal is that our team will be among the first on scene at natural disasters, providing relief and rescue operations during floods.”

[x_button shape=”square” size=”large” float=”none” href=”https://www.gofundme.com/4ddpjuo” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover”]Check Out Bailey’s Rescue Team GoFundMe[/x_button]


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