One Texas Man's Desperate Effort to Stay Alive During Harvey - NBC Bay Area
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One Texas Man's Desperate Effort to Stay Alive During Harvey

He put his five rat terriers — Tex, Rocky, Buck, Angel and Itty Bitty — in a room and looked out toward the street. "I said, 'Oh God, I'm going to die'"

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    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gives the lastest update on the catastrophic flooding following the landfall of Hurricane Harvey, Aug. 27, 2017. The governor announced he was mobilizing 3,000 national and state guard while adding that more counties have been added to the disaster list. (Published Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017)

    Sam Speights takes medication for extreme anxiety and panic attacks.

    But there's no pill for a hurricane — especially when he ventured into it at the height of its fury.

    "You don't see the flying debris until it's right in front of you," said Speights. "You can't see it coming."

    Emergency officials coordinating triage in the coastal city of Rockport, where Hurricane Harvey barreled into Texas, said Sunday they considered it almost miraculous that the number of confirmed deaths from the storm in their area so far is only one person and two in the state of Texas.

    Speights easily could have been a victim.

    Unable to get a relative or friend to come and pick him up or to find a ride out — Speights doesn't have a car — he hunkered down with his six dogs, a huskie and five rat terriers, in his three-bedroom lime green trailer.

    His wife and 15-year-old son had fled along with nearly everyone else on Ruby Allen Street, a line of trailer homes on a 10-foot rise three miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

    The wiry 37-year-old with gold-capped teeth and deck-of-cards suits tattooed on his fingers made it through the storm's first lashing Friday night. His world exploded, after the calm of the storm's eye passed, in the fury of swirling, sustained 130 mph winds.

    People who rode out Harvey in devastated Rockport, where emergency management spokesman Bill Terry estimated Sunday it would be three to four weeks before essential services could be restored, described how their houses felt like they were breathing.

    Speights' trailer was absolutely panting.

    First the tin canopy tore off over the living room. Then the ceiling peeled up in his son's room.

    "I was sitting on my couch and it bounced up and down twice. That's when I decided it was time to get out."

    He put the rat terriers — Tex, Rocky, Buck, Angel and Itty Bitty — in a room and looked out toward the street. "I said, 'Oh God, I'm going to die.'"

    He grabbed his Husky, Nanook, and headed outside. The drainage ditch roiled with water. The storm surge was about 5 feet and had nearly filled it.

    "I almost drowned in that creek," said Speights, whose only light was his cellphone's flashlight. "I was worried about a big wave coming and dragging me out to sea."

    He could barely see. Something hit him in his right shoulder, he recalled, rubbing it as he stood next to his neighbor's toppled mobile home, its steel base twisted. Nearly every mobile home on the block was tossed, flattened or pierced and vacuumed by Harvey.

    The wind was absolute confusion.

    "It was coming from every direction. It was circling around. It was hard to determine, to be honest."

    First, Speights made for an open green corrugated steel vehicle shed and sheltered there until it started crumpling. Then he ran past another three houses to a concrete bunker-like structure his landlord had heavily reinforced with rebar. It was locked.

    Next to it stood his landlord's pickup.

    "I grabbed the door handle," he said. "Thank God it was unlocked."

    "I got in there, locked all the doors, pushed down the emergency brake and rode it out until about 4:30 (in the morning."

    That's when the carport ceiling began to curl. The pickup was vibrating, debris crashing along its sides. Tree limbs flew. He feared the truck's window would explode.

    "I didn't want my head to get torn off," said Speights.

    Scores of vehicle windows in Rockport — a city of 10,000 — shattered in the storm, including police cruisers parked downtown.

    Speights jumped out and made for the concrete-block house adjacent.

    "I just snuck into the back window and jumped in. That thing is solid."

    He and Nanook, still at his side, were finally safe.

    But Speights has lost everything he owns.

    He bicycled three miles to the emergency management center in Rockport's center Sunday, where he was given emergency food rations and a cooking kit. He has no insurance. His wife works as a waitress and he, a former telephone sales representative, hasn't worked for about a decade.

    Two Border Patrol agents, who along with state troopers, National Guard soldiers and others are assisting in recovery efforts, came by Speights' trailer Sunday afternoon to check on him and tell him authorities had a welfare check for him.

    Of course there's no place open to cash it, no power, running water and other essential services.

    "We're just a low-income family and this hurts," he said after they left, holding back a sob that later came when he squatted in his puddled backyard, surveying the roofless, wall-less back of his trailer, his rat terriers heaping on affection.

    Speights spent Saturday night on his rain-sodden couch.

    "It's disgusting. I wrapped it in plastic so I could sleep on it. I woke up smelling like mold."

    He'd called his father in Austin but wasn't sure he'd be able to come get him.

    Where did he and the dogs plan to sleep Sunday night?

    "I don't have a clue."