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From the Pen of Louie Bond

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas like a heavyweight champ on Aug. 25. Gathering energy in warm Gulf waters, Harvey’s fist smashed into the coast, knocking out Rockport’s teeth with power and precision, busting up bones in Port Aransas and Corpus Christi as well. Even worse, the Category 4 slugger followed that left jab with a devastating right hook: torrential, historical, mind-boggling amounts of rain submerging Houston, amounts so large that the weather folks had to create new colors to represent never-before-seen rainfall totals. As we go to press, we find the referee has left the ring but Harvey has returned — a bully rejuvenated by another dip into the Gulf — to resume his beating of the coast in towns to the east such as Beaumont and Port Arthur.

Emergency planning began at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department when Harvey was a mere infant out over the ocean. As the storm drew closer with increasing severity, this agency battened down the hatches on TPWD properties, set up a central command and coordinated efforts with the state’s law enforcement and emergency services, as we do during any major Texas weather event. Our overarching goal is the safety and welfare of our employees, our visitors and the public that we serve.

“I have always said that TPWD shines the brightest when times are the darkest — Hurricane Harvey has been no exception,” says Executive Director Carter Smith. “Our field staff across all divisions in affected areas have been nothing short of remarkable in their preparedness and response-related activities.”

TPWD properties suffered extensive damage in places from Mustang Island to Dickinson. More than 50 Texas state parks, wildlife management areas, fish hatcheries and offices were closed due to flooding concerns. Other state parks flung wide their gates to offer 3,000 Harvey evacuees a free, safe place to wait out the storm.

TPWD law enforcement was fully embedded within the State Operations Center, which manages Texas’ disaster-related events.  This team of state, federal and local agencies, coupled with nonprofit response groups such as the Red Cross, coordinates all state law enforcement, emergency response and first responder assets. Back at TPWD’s Austin headquarters, a team of dedicated, multidivisional employees worked around the clock to coordinate the agency’s multifaceted, operational, logistical, financial and administrative response and provide support to the affected field personnel.

Always at the forefront when you need them most, Texas game wardens were among the first on the scene to rescue frightened victims trapped by the rising waters. More than 200 game wardens and state park police officers provided lifesaving activities. In the Fort Bend-Houston-Beaumont area alone, more than 140 shallow craft, swift water boats and airboats conducted water-related rescues.

In one remarkable day, TPWD game wardens and their partners safely rescued nearly 4,000 stranded, frightened residents, including a 75-year-old man trapped in the second story of his Houston-area house. The man had a very serious heart condition and was in no position to handle the stress of the storm, much less the rising water. Getting on the roof was not an option for him, but he was rescued by boat by game wardens in the nick of time. “Your game wardens are a fleet of angels and the answer to our prayers,” his family told Carter Smith.

Many worried if one of Texas’ most famous trees would be able to withstand Harvey’s knockout punch. One of the first photos that emerged from the heart of the weather-ravaged area was of Goose Island State Park’s 1,000-year-old Big Tree, standing tall and proud amid the broken branches of younger, weaker trees. Leave it to nature to remind us that we’re still standing, too. We are #TexasStrong.

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