Twenty-seven people, three dogs and one cat – those are the lives John Wilhite of Sallisaw had rescued, by Friday morning, in Port Arthur, Texas.
Wilhite went to Texas to help Hurricane Harvey flood victims earlier this week after he attended church on Sunday, then watched the catastrophe on the news. Wilhite said he felt God call him to Texas to help, so he loaded up some supplies and his boat, and off he went. He is accompanied by another Sallisaw resident, Howard Copeland.
“We got to Port Arthur about 6 p.m. Wednesday,” Wilhite reported. “We’ve been pulling people out of the water ever since. We rescued 27 people, three dogs and one cat yesterday.”
Wilhite said on Friday morning he and Copeland helped rescue a man and his cat in Port Arthur, southeast of Houston.
“Last night the local First United Methodist Church in Port Neches opened up and gave us some food and a bed. They did that for all the first responders,” Wilhite said.
Wilhite said he stopped for some lunch at noon Friday, and was then to contact dispatch, which would send him and Copeland on another rescue. He said he is working with a group called the Texas Navy. That group coordinates efforts with the National Guard and local police and fire departments.
Wilhite explained the rescued victims are taken to a staging area at a central mall in Port Arthur where the rescued are given essentials and then transported or directed to a safe place or shelter.
But that’s for just now. Wilhite said the Texas governor has acknowledged that recovery from Hurricane Harvey “will take years.”
The immediate need is still not over. Wilhite said many of those in the Texas Navy, with boats, have moved on to Orange, Texas, about 50 miles east of Beaumont. A mandatory evacuation of Orange was ordered Thursday due to the flooding.
“A tremendous number of people and their boats are going to Orange because of the flooding,” Wilhite said, “but we haven’t been able to get there.”
Wilhite said he and Copeland will stay in Texas as long as they are needed. He explained his boat is a shallow water vessel meant for duck hunting. On Friday, he said, the sun was shining in Port Arthur, but the air was “hot and humid.” And the weather forecast isn’t good, he added. Wilhite said it is predicted that heavy rain will hit the area again on Tuesday.
“We’ll be here as long as we are needed and then we’ll come home. I understand there are lots of donations, and if need be, we’ll load them up and bring them back here.”
Wilhite said, “A lot of people are asking me ‘What can I do?’ I tell them the most important thing they can do is pray.”
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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