DEER PARK, Texas (Nexstar) — The fact that no one died when an unprecedented EF3 tornado tore through 18 miles of the Houston metroplex is not a miracle — it is a hard-fought manmade blessing borne out of the resiliency of southeast Texans who know how to weather a storm.
There is not much left of the San Jacinto Manor senior living home in Deer Park, but all of its dozens of elderly residents are unharmed. The volunteers attending the bedsides made a decision that saved lives, moving the many seniors through the storm and across the street to safety minutes before 140 mph winds ripped the roof clean off and caved in the brick walls.
“Places like senior assisted-living facilities have been decimated. And that is just heartbreaking,” Harris County Precinct Two Commissioner Adrian Garcia said. “However, it’s heartwarming to meet people that you think are employees of a facility like that, but they’re volunteers.”
Across town at Deer Park’s Community First ER, physicians attending similar bedsides made another split-second evacuation.
“We were just taking care of multiple patients and we heard the loud noise and felt the pressure change,” Doctor Kenneth Direkly said. “We scurried everybody into the CT scanner room covered in lead and heard all the noise, the ceiling tiles coming down, glass broke, water came in. We got everybody to safety, waited for the storm to pass and then carried on with patient care.”
Direkly and his team carried onto treat the tornado’s cuts and scrapes that arrived in the hours after, and continued to host patients in need by running on nothing but a generator the day after.
“You just have to be ready for anything,” he said.
Just southwest of Deer Park, other volunteers cared not for patients, but pets.
The cats and dogs of the Pasadena Animal Shelter are in new homes now, each one shaken but safe after the tornado ripped off their roof.
“It was very traumatic, especially for the animals,” one of their caretakers named Joanna said. “[In one] section of the warehouse is about 80 dogs where half of the roof is completely gone. So very traumatic. We thought we had an injured so had veterinarians rush over here and take care of them, and there were no injuries with humans or animals.”
Lining one of the shelter’s hallways, darkened by the power outage, were dozens of cages people donated in the last 24 hours so the animals could sleep safely at a neighboring facility.
“Woof,” a chocolate lab named Huggles said.
“Volunteers lined up here, rescue organizations [and] SPCA were all here ready within a couple hours,” Joanna said. “All organizations came in, trucks full of animals left. We have only 23 dogs left currently in our facilities, zero cats. They all left this morning. So we’ve been blessed.”
Blessed, certainly, but also battle-tested. Southeast Texas is no stranger to this kind of solidarity after a storm. Usually, the devastation comes with a warning from the Gulf. But the neighborly instincts remain.
“Regretfully, we’re probably the most experienced county office in emergency response,’ Commissioner Garcia said. “That’s what we do. We don’t leave our residents behind. We do whatever’s necessary. And if I need to break out a chainsaw, that’s what I’ll do.”
Commissioner Garcia directs any Texan who can lend a helping hand to donate to his Precinct2gether fund, a nonprofit that will help residents in need.
“We’re gonna take care of our community. That’s the spirit of Precinct Two. That’s the spirit of Harris County.”