Deputy talks about saving people affected by Harvey

HOUSTON — Sgt. James Cabrera of the Harris County Sherriff’s vehicular crimes division worked with Houston police to organize more than 100 civilian boats and volunteers to rescue people out of the water from Hurricane Harvey.

Sgt. Cabrera is a former resident of Santa Rosa. We talked to him over the phone Wednesday about his experience during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

What was it like having to prepare for Hurricane Harvey as a family man and protector of the city?

“Before the rain is like the old saying, ‘calm before the storm.’ But it’s hard to prepare yourself and your family because you have to prepare the city.

“It’s hard to balance that because you have to make sure your family is taken care of because you have a job to do for the public. It was hard, but it got done.”

How high were the waters you were actually in?

“I walked in four feet of water, and was on a boat on seven feet of water. It was a lot of rescues. On Sunday, we had about 10 rescues, on Monday, 350, Tuesday about 250 and it slowed down by Wednesday. It was already drying up and the sun came out Tuesday afternoon.”

Was there a real sense of panic from the police department’s view to try to save everybody?

“Yes and no. It depends on what part of the city you were in. There were more currents in the eastside of the city and more standing water in other parts. It was panicky when the older couples would call. One lady had a stroke last month and we had to get her on a backboard. It was pretty rough.”

How rough were those waters?

“I got swept by the water. I didn’t know I was standing on the curb and when I stepped down, I stepped into about 3 feet of water. Even though the water wasn’t very deep, the current was that hard. I didn’t panic and floated on my back and when I felt the current slowing down I was able to catch my footing and stand back up.”

Aside from saving people from their flooded homes, did you save anybody drowning in water?

“There was an elderly man who lived in a house on stilts and the water was already entering his window. He never called for help but he was holding on for dear life to a fence.

“So we stopped to get him in the boat. He was in his 70s and already going hypothermic. They were all saves but not from drowning. Our boat flipped over, and I got knocked off the boat by a tree branch. It was pretty bad.”

What is your department like now?

“Yesterday was back to normal. Out of the 4,000 employees, we had about 100 who had total loss of their homes. Right now its paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. I’m blessed that none of the people that work directly for me had any flooding issues in their homes.”

What does the city look like now?

“There are still some neighborhoods under water. And the ones that are not under water that were under water have the debris sitting on the curb.”

Did the city of Houston prepare appropriately?

“It did. We were going over briefings two to three days prior to when the storm hit. The storm hit Saturday night and we were activated for 12-hour shifts. We knew we were going to get the nasty end of it.”