Granted, when that wind and rain come in the form of a hurricane it can change lives and communities forever. Hurricane Harvey certainly changed ours. There are countless stories out there about how the storm impacted people here in Fort Bend County. Everything from high-water rescues, nights spent in shelters, mucking homes and more are sure to be experiences never forgotten.
Harvey was my first hurricane despite living a combined 16 years in coastal regions of Texas and North Carolina. We came through it with nothing worse than survivor’s guilt and altered travel plans. Our house was not damaged and we never lost power or even Internet service. For that we are thankful.
Although it was a relatively minor inconvenience, my wife was supposed to fly to Orlando, Fla., on Aug. 26 to visit our oldest son, Wesley, and her parents. Harvey dictated otherwise, so she rescheduled for Sept. 9. Although she could have flown out of Houston, landing in Orlando would have been problematic since Hurricane Irma was paying a visit.
Wesley opted to evacuate Orlando and has been staying with us. Sandy’s parents hunkered down during Irma and came away unscathed. Once again we are very thankful.
One of the inspiring things about the hurricane here was how many heroes rose to the occasion. We all know the stories of J.J. Watt, Mattress Mac and the hundreds of everyday citizens with boats. (More about Watt later.) I want to tell you a story closer to home that I don’t think very many people know about.
I was aware that Constellation Field was opened as a shelter during the storm, but I had no idea what actually happened there until I saw the SkeetersDish report on Facebook by Jessica Munoz. She interviewed Skeeters owner Marcie Zlotnik, who had an incredible story to tell. Bob and Marcie Zlotnik made the decision to open the stadium as a shelter even though they couldn’t get there right away because they live 20 minutes out and streets were flooding. By Monday night, Aug. 28, there were 370 people and 170 pets staying there.
“To see people come in a dump truck with absolutely nothing, soaking wet, no shoes, and to be able to say, ‘you’re OK now’ …” Marcie said.
Within four hours an abundance of donations poured in.
“The volunteers were amazing!” she said.
Clothing was lined up by gender, size and age. People could get dressed, go up to the Insperity Club and get food, watch TV and find solace.
Marcie put a message out on Facebook and contacted a few friends and that led to the quick arrival of about a dozen key volunteers.
“I gotta tell you, the millennials, they were incredible. Their enthusiasm and their physical ability to load water, unload water, run upstairs to help … they watched over some of the animals when the owners wanted to get a break. … They were so eager to help; it was really encouraging,” she said.
The Sugar Land Skeeters were on the road when the storm hit and instead of returning home they moved a four-game series to New Britain, Conn. That upset some of the players, but they soldiered on and did their job, although they would have rather been here with their families and helping out.
Because there was a desire to get back to a sense of normalcy, the team moved forward with plans to play a four-game home stand the following weekend. Getting the team home, as well as getting the Blue Crabs from Southern Maryland here, was no easy task.
“It’s not like booking something for seven people,” Marcie said, “you’re booking for 30-plus. And not just us, you’re also booking for the Maryland team.”
The Skeeters flew to Dallas and took a bus home. The Blue Crabs had to change airports and airlines, but they were understanding and arrived in time to play. The other teams in the Atlantic League held fundraisers and sent supplies to Sugar Land.
In addition to stepping up to help a community in need, the Skeeters discounted ticket prices for the remainder of the season, offered free tickets for first responders and flood victims and made parking free. This is a team and an organization that really cares about the fans and the community. Although the season is over, please don’t forget what this team did for us when next April rolls around and it’s time once again to play ball. We need to be here for the team that was here for us!
Although many of Houston’s pro sports teams have stepped up for hurricane relief, none has been more visible than the Houston Texans and star J.J. Watt. Raising more than $30 million and pitching in to help with relief efforts, Watt has won the hearts and respect of millions of people. I spent a lot of time planning how I was going to photograph his introduction at the game Sept. 10 against Jacksonville. I knew it was going to be a powerfully emotional occasion and I wanted to get “the” shot as he came out of the tunnel.
I positioned myself across the field where I had the perfect angle to look into the tunnel. Then the cheerleaders, first responders and various others formed the lines on the field extending from the tunnel, blocking my view. I quickly repositioned to get a new angle and then the giant, field-sized flag was marched out – right in front of me. I couldn’t get to a new position in time, so I had to kneel and shoot between the legs of flag-holders and around personnel in line on the field holding up cell phones.
I somehow got a halfway reasonable shot through all of those obstacles. I guess I should consider myself fortunate if that is the worst of my struggles in this storm.
Now that the things are settling down, it’s time to put away the camera and pull on some work gloves and go help people in need. I just hope it doesn’t rain!