Coming to the Rescue in Port Arthur

Stepping Up

Security Studies graduate student Adam Lee and his friend from Minnesota rescued seniors from nursing homes in Port Arthur during Hurricane Harvey.

When the media plea from the Coast Guard came for help from anyone with boats, Adam Lee from Wisconsin and Justin Bloyer from Minnesota headed to Port Arthur.

Lee, a Security Studies graduate student at Sam Houston State University, joined a family friend who drove down from Minnesota to help rescue people trapped by rising floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey. The pair spent three days in Spring, Beaumont, and Port Arthur, searching for victims and ushering those who wanted to evacuate to safety.

In Port Arthur, Lee and Bloyer spent one day rescuing seniors from nursing homes. At the Cypress Glen nursing home, they transported two wheelchair-bound residents via boat to a staging area, where they were loaded on Army helicopters and taken to Conroe. One resident couldn’t speak; the second was in critical condition and quickly running out of oxygen. Other mobile seniors were taken to a theater waiting for their turn to leave.

It was organized chaos,” said Lee. “We were one of the first boats there (at Cypress Glen). You had nurses, volunteers and paperwork, which were put in a vest on each person. You would pull in to the staging area, and volunteers would be there to give you food and water and send you back out, and 6-8 people would take the patient out of the boat then transport them to the helicopter.”

The Port Arthur rescue effort went on for two days, with Lee and Bloyer sleeping in their truck at night in a CVS parking lot. Although the Army, First Responders and National Guard were in the city, it was an effort run mainly by volunteers because of the extent of the need. The volunteers came from all over – from Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Minnesota to help. It also included local residents, like Jamal, who hopped on the boat to help them navigate the city. “He was our tour guide, for lack of a better word,” said Lee. “Jamal knew a lot of people.”

Lee put his training from his homeland security classes into action.

“It was important to have a thorough understanding of emergency management and the incident command systems,” said Lee. “But it was also great to have spontaneous volunteers. It was one of the most important resources we had.”

Lee and Bloyer began their efforts working with the Spring Fire Department, but many residents did not want to leave their homes. When the Coast Guard called for volunteers with boats, the pair briefly worked in Beaumont, handing out food and water to residents trapped in an apartment complex. In Port Arthur, they launched their boat from the local mall to help rescue seniors from two of three nursing homes in the area. Eventually, medicine and medical files used for seniors were giving to Bloyer, and he was instructed to bring them to the staging area. Upon arrival, he was loaded on an Army helicopter to help with the transportation of residents to Conroe.

Following the rescue efforts, Lee drove from Port Arthur to Conroe, which took 6-7 hours because the main road to the area was shut down due to explosions at the Arkema plant in Crosby.
After graduation in May 2018, Lee hopes to turn emergency management into a career, helping those in need in disasters around the country.

“I got to put everything I learned to good use,” said Lee.

Member of The Texas State University System