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Harvey hero: No one was running the shelter until he stepped up

HURRICANE HARVEY

Joe Raedle | Getty Images North America | AFP

John Burger - published on 08/28/17 - updated on 08/28/17

Georgia man organizes rescue efforts during Hurricane Harvey.

Zachary Dearing is a 29-year-old screenwriter from Georgia who moved to Rockport, Texas, three months ago. He might not have expected the drama he would find himself in the middle of at the end of the summer.

Dearing came to Rockport to live with his father, a cancer survivor, on a houseboat. Rockport, southwest of Houston, is sheltered from the Gulf of Mexico by the barrier San Jose Island. When Hurricane Harvey became a threat, many people, such as Dearing’s father, evacuated, and many, such as Dearing himself, did not get out in time. On August 24, Dearing posted a message on Facebook: “Need all the good vibes, guys! Mandatory evacuation for Rockport, but I think we’re going to stay with the boat. Definitely some tough decisions to make in the coming hours.”

Two days after that post, state emergency authorities visited a storm shelter in Rockport and asked for the person in charge. According to a Reuters report, everyone pointed to Zachary Dearing, who was wearing “shorts, an olive-green T-shirt and curly blond hair pulled into a man-bun.”

… he seemed to have keen command of a desperate situation playing out in this beach community of about 10,000 people, which took catastrophic damage from a direct hit by Hurricane Harvey. Dearing rattled off basic facts and needs: The shelter had 126 people at last headcount. Six were medically fragile. Four needed oxygen. Two needed hospice care. Everyone was calm because they had just been fed, he said. “What service are you with?” Katie Contrera, of the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force recalled asking him. She was shocked to learn Dearing was a civilian with no medical expertise.

No one had been running the shelter at Live Oak Elementary school, and when Dearing got there he stepped up. He recruited 15 volunteers and put them on 30-minute shifts checking on everyone in the shelter. He got people in the shelter to share their food and water with one another. And he organized periodic trips into the Category 4 wind storm to rescue more stranded people, the report said.

“That guy is a hometown hero – he pulled it off,” said Carlos Alarcon, with the state medical task force.

Dearing and his band of volunteers kept people safe and relatively calm in a dangerous situation that might have descended into chaos, said one Texas law enforcement official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. … Contrera, of the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force, arrived later to find little in the way of supplies or medical personnel. What she did find was a surprisingly calm population occupying the gym and the darkened hallways of the school, which had lost power and running water the night before. “I was very surprised – and so thankful – that someone filled that role,” she said of Dearing.

By late Saturday, there were about 150 people taking shelter in the school, and a collection of state law enforcement and emergency professionals were starting to put them on buses headed for Austin.

“No one got hurt; the patients are alive,” Dearing told a reporter. “These guys answered my prayers, and I cried.”

Harvey has been blamed for several deaths, and officials warn that the danger is far from over. Flooding in Texas is unlikely to recede quickly and rains are expected to continue for several days. They say that the storm will force more than 30,000 people from their homes, the Washington Post reported.

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