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Local first responders head south for relief efforts

By Kati Moody

Rising waters, alligators and snakes can’t hold true heroes back from their duty of helping those in need when the call of duty has been heard.

Local first responders, Troy Tillman, Lance Edwards, Julio Mora, Vince Gonzales and Bob Morris responded to the call, made more than 600 miles away, Wednesday in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

“We sat here and were listening to all of this and it was really beating on us that we weren’t down there helping,” said Edwards. “We ended up pulling a crew together on Tuesday and we left on Wednesday.”

The group of five local responders, plus one from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, organized a plan to team up with the Cajun Navy upon their arrival in South Texas.

The Cajun Navy is an ad-hoc volunteer group who utilizes the use of their equipment for water rescues. The group formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and reactivated recently after the Texas floods in 2016 and Hurricane Harvey.

The local responders were able to obtain a 20 foot flat bottom jet boat to take with them to assist with water rescues. They also carried a trailer full of supplies to help those in need.

The responders were not sponsored by any local group or organization, but received several donations for gas and funds to help them get to South Texas.

“Our community is such an awesome, giving community,” Edwards said. “The community support for us was so tremendous. We received support through money for gas and supplies…They wanted us to go help any way we could.”

The group arrived in Vidor, Texas, a community outside Beaumont, east of Houston, Wednesday night. They began their mission on Thursday morning.

“As soon as we hooked up with the Cajun Navy they started  giving us assignments,” Edwards said. “We launched our boat off the Interstate 10 on ramp. It was a wild experience.”

Vince Gonzales said the destruction and devastation was unlike anything he or any of the guys had witnessed on the news.

“The devastation really came alive,” Gonzales said. “Compared to seeing it on the news and seeing it face to face, it all became real.”

However, no one felt afraid or like they couldn’t help once they saw how bad it really was. In fact, they felt the opposite.

“It wasn’t scary, it was just a powerful moment really,” Gonzales said. “Just seeing all the people in need and realizing how bad it was.”

The group was able to make 85 water rescues, 15 animal rescues and even transported some goats to higher ground.

“It was the importance of keeping other people safe,” Tillman said. “On the way down there, everything ran through our minds from snakes, gators and sinkholes in the water…as soon as we hit the water we completely forgot. It wasn’t about that anymore.”

The group came back Sunday and returned their normal jobs and lives Monday morning. However, they would all do it again if they were given the chance.

“It’s just who we are,” Gonzales said. “We would have gone as soon as it came in, it’s our passion. We want to help people and I wouldn’t hesitate to go again, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Read the full story in the Wednesday edition of the News-Press.

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