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First by truck, then by power boat, man rescues Texas flood victims

Texas is still reeling from storms that began soaking much of the state last weekend and have yet to let up

Jeff Dyson saw the San Jacinto River rising Friday and knew he had to do everything he could to help his riverfront neighbors.

In his pickup truck, Dyson, 44, towed trailers and equipment from his Banana Bend neighborhood as fast as he could.  

He didn’t have time to remove his own trailers before water blocked Grace Lane, the only road in and out. 

“By the time we got them out,” Dyson said of his neighbors, “it was too late.”

But Dyson continued to cruise nearby streets inundated with river water, checking on houses and friends.

Dysons’ neighborhood still had power Friday, but that might not last long, he said. Water had crept into the breaker boxes. 

When he could no longer travel by truck, he revved up the engine of his shallow-water GO-DEVIL boat and continued his rescue operation.

“It’s pretty nasty. They’re saying 6 more inches. If we get that, we’ll be OK. But if it goes more than that, it’s in some people’s houses,” Dyson said.  

Dyson was wearing a T-shirt from the San Jacinto Riverpalooza he organized, a neighborhood music festival that drew hundreds of boaters.

He has lived in this neighborhood, about 20 miles east of Houston, eight years and said he hasn’t seen the river rise this much since Hurricane Ike in 2008.

He and a friend, Bobby Arnold, 35, motored up Highland Shores Drive, now part of the river, past submerged boat houses, mailboxes and a couple of cars. Neighbors waved from passing boats and balconies in elevated houses with boats and jets skis tied to the pylons.

“People were pretty much prepared for this,” Dyson said. “If you live on the river, this is going to happen.”

But it had been years since the river swallowed streets. Arnold pointed: “That’s a street. There, too.”

"Completely underwater,” Dyson said as he steered the boat out into the river.

The wide, brown river was moving quickly, the current churning tree limbs and other debris.

Earlier in the day, Dyson saw a couple of pigs frantically searching for drier ground and alligators approaching homes.

He rounded the bend, and pointed to the Cypress Coast snack shop, now surrounded by water.

Flooding had swallowed the nearby beach and water was creeping up the trunks of surrounding pines and cypress trees dripping Spanish moss.

More rain had been forecast for Friday. It sprinkled, but didn’t inundate the neighborhood. Heavier showers were expected Saturday.

“Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Dyson said. “Hopefully they’ll dissipate when they get here, too.”

He pointed to his trailers at the water’s edge, one of which already had water under it.

“We were going to build a house out here. Look at it now!” he said, laughing.

The river had already overcome nearby piers, grills and fish-cleaning tables.

Near his trailer, a few homes sitting on plots of higher ground had become islands. A man waved from an elevated house with a boat moored next to the door.

“How you doing, man?” Dyson called.

“Hanging in there,” the man shouted.

They passed the skeleton of a house destroyed by the worst flood to hit the area back in 1994.

“It just took that house apart,” Dyson said, turning serious. “It’s going to be bad when it crests. If it really gets bad, we have ways of getting out: we fire up the big boats.”

Manh Pham, 66, a retired computer repairman, was checking his waterfront home Friday. He did not plan to stay, but had security cameras and a neighbor willing to watch the place who was equipped with a boat and spare kayak.

“I expect it will come,” he said of the river. “They say tomorrow is the worst part.”

Ellen Holton, 55, lost her house in 1994, and this time, the hair stylist decided to stay on Lake Drive – now an actual lake – to ride out the storm.

“It’s like swamp adventures. When it’s real bad is when there’s a current running through this,” she said as she waded through water to the front of her elevated home Friday morning, climbing several flights to the porch.  

“You look down and feel like you could drop a fishing line,” Holton said, contemplating the muddy water below.

On nearby Cypress Lane, which dead ends at the river, Sam Lindsey was preparing to set out by boat to check sand pits his family owns after the only road in flooded Friday.

“If it comes up much more, all that area – our property – would be underwater. It slows us down. We can’t work,” Lindsey, 26, said of the river.

By the time Dyson returned to the entrance of the neighborhood on Grace Lane, his friend Mike Woods and a sheriff’s deputy had showed up to check on locals. Dyson reported that he’d seen about a half dozen people, all safe.

Woods, 63, pointed to where his house stood before it was destroyed in the 1994 flood and he moved to high ground in town.

“I got about another foot before it’s in the house. It come up fast,” Dyson said.

Then he and his friend sped back toward the river-bound neighborhood to continue their patrols.

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