As Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast of Texas earlier this month, a local man, with the help of family members and friends, set out to help his fellow Texans during the clean-up process.
Kevin Robertson, of Bullard, owner of Robertson Automotive of Tyler, along with a team of four others, set out shortly after Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, struck the city of Rockport in an effort to assist storm victims as they began to recover and rebuild. Robertson and his team helped clean up damage around the affected area from Wednesday, Aug. 30 to Monday, Sept. 4.
“It just broke my heart,” said Robertson, in an exclusive interview with Bullard Banner News. “I kept seeing the pictures on Facebook and video on the news, and I knew I had to do something. The planning began with me and my daughter’s boyfriend; we were scheduled to go on a big dove hunt during opening weekend, but we bailed on it because we knew in our hearts that we needed to go down there and help people as much as we could. I would have felt guilty having a good time on the hunt while knowing others down south were hurting.”
The decision by Robertson to help out his fellow Texans was quickly made after looking back at his time helping out residents after the destructive tornadoes in Moore, Okla. in May 2013, when an EF-5 twister with winds as high at 210 miles per hour, resulting in 24 deaths and 377 injuries.
“It was an easy decision to make because of what happened in Moore,” said Robertson. “I have a sister that lives in Moore and works at the school district there. There were several family members of ours affected, and I just felt the need to go. It was the first time I had ever done anything like that and I didn’t know what I was up against. The devastation in Moore was indescribable; it’s hard to describe when there was just nothing left, not even grass in the ground. The track of the tornado was almost 1 ½ miles wide, and it just took out everything. That experience gave me a little idea of what we might be seeing as we went to Rockport.”
Going on the trip to Rockport with Robertson to help with the clean-up were his daughter Kelsey Robertson; his daughter’s boyfriend Luke Beekman; and friends Randy Burt and Jason Shaver.
According to Robertson, the trip to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey initially began with a plan of traveling to assist in the Houston area, but then transitioned to going to the “Ground Zero” of the storm’s devastation.
Robertson said the excursion down to Rockport began when Beekman returned from working in the oil fields of Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Aug. 30.
“We started towards Rockport after we had rented a Bobcat, got all of the equipment we were going to need loaded up, and when Luke landed at the airport in Dallas,” said Robertson. “He’d been working nights for two weeks and was tired, but he hit the ground running and we pulled out towards Rockport at 6 a.m. without a clue as to how to get there or anything.”
On the way to Rockport, Robertson noticed state officials and volunteers, including some from outside the state of Texas, headed in the same direction as he was headed when they arrived in the city of Hearne.
“We had to make a stop at Tractor Supply in Hearne and we noticed a fleet of game wardens from Kansas go by with boats headed towards Rockport,” said Robertson. “It really struck me that although it was a terrible storm that hit Texas, we had help coming from practically everywhere across the county; the whole country banded together to help Texas.”
According to Robertson, the team of volunteers, loaded down with trucks full of work equipment and travel trailers, began seeing damage from Hurricane Harvey’s wrath around the Victoria area.
“When we got to Victoria, that’s really where we began seeing some of the damage,” said Robertson. “Power lines were down, some structural damage, and sign damage was noticeable there. When we got down towards Rockport, there was maybe one out of 10 telephone poles still standing, if that many. There’s a lot of country down that ways where there’s already nothing there, but you could tell that the area had flooded because the barbed-wire fences were laid over.”
Traveling on Texas Highway 35 near Rockport, Robertson said the damage at the Aransas County Airport, approximately five miles north of the city, was hard to believe with his own eyes.
“It was just unbelievable,” said Robertson. “The airport was just destroyed; there were entire hangers and airplanes turned upside-down. When we got to Rockport, we went to the fire department, then went to a church and signed up with Operation Blessing. They ended up sending us to the airport on Friday to clean up sheet metal and try to get everything done so they can get the airport back open. I don’t know if they knew what they were getting with us; I had a bunch of oil field hands with me who are used to working long, hard hours. They thought that it was going to take us two to three days to do what we were assigned, but we actually finished it in two to three hours because we had the equipment necessary and we had hooked up with friends from Yoakum and Hondo that also had tractors and big equipment. Every structure in the city of Rockport had some extent of damage to it, whether it was small or had been completely flattened.”
Robertson recounted a by-chance meeting with an elderly man who had an aircraft damaged at the airport, and the man’s method of repaying Robertson and his crew for assisting him.
“There was a 76-year-old man that had an airplane that he had built himself at the airport,” said Robertson. “It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was his passion. He came over to us and asked if we could help him move it because it was lying in the middle of the runway area. We picked it up with the Bobcat and sat it on a pallet for him. The engine was worth about $12,000 and that’s all he wanted of the plane. The man looked at us and said he couldn’t offer much but offered to repay us with a hug. So, we all got in line and hugged him and took pictures with him in front of his plane. That was the biggest thing that a lot of the people we helped wanted – just to know that someone cared about them. We ended up hugging a lot of folks while we were down there.”
While helping others clean up from the storm, Robertson met and spoke with others who had survived Hurricane Harvey, including an elderly woman who chose to not evacuate, but rather stay in her house when the storm hit, as well as a native man who had ridden out several storms in the past.
“I asked her what it was like riding the storm out in her house, and she said that she laid in the hallway with her three dogs for 12 hours while it sounded like a freight train was coming through her front door,” said Robertson. “She also said for about five of the 12 hours, she was making peace with the good Lord above because she was afraid she wasn’t going to make it; the look in her eye was dead serious. There was another man who was 78-years-old who had been raised in that area and had ridden out every storm that had hit the coast throughout his life. It really got me when he said that from now on, if they say a tropical depression is headed that way, he was going to leave immediately.”
Also during the trip, Robertson’s crew also traveled to Port Aransas to help assist in the clean up at a friend’s house.
“When we pulled up to his house, the devastation became even more real to me,” said Robertson. “He has five acres usually filled with live oak trees, but I honestly don’t think he has any left. He had a tree that was as big as my pickup just laid across his driveway. Before we started, he asked us how much it was going to cost him, and we told him it wouldn’t cost him anything but a hug. We didn’t go down there to make a dollar; we went down to make a difference.”
Robertson said the outpouring of prayers and support, whether through the means of physical labor or monetary donations and donated items to help victims in their greatest time of need was truly a sight to witness.
“Texans have each others’ backs,” said Robertson. “Seeing what I saw, it really helped renew my faith in the human race. At a time where we see the news and it looks like our country is so divided, to see people of all races and ethnicities stand hand-and-hand and work together was an amazing thing to see; there was no division at all because we didn’t care, we knew that we all needed to help each other united with one goal – to recover and rebuild.”
When asked about his plans for the future, Robertson plans to return to the Rockport area and continue to help people rebuild their lives.
“I would consider helping in any way that I can,” said Robertson. “In fact, I’m going back because that’s not all done down there; it’s far from over. I feel like we were able to give those that we helped out by starting the process. They need to get a lot of that debris cleared out by FEMA and then they can begin to rebuild. We haven’t figured out yet when we’re going but I’m going back if I have to go back myself. Everything that we did, all the money spent, the blood, sweat, and tears, and time we spent helping others was definitely well worth it.”