Jordan St. Clair spent much of Wednesday in Beaumont, Texas, dangling from a cable high above roads “like rivers” and parking lots “like lakes,” hoisting families trapped on top of their roofs into a helicopter, he said.
St. Clair, 30, of Manorville, is one of more than 100 members of the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing that were deployed to help the thousands of people affected by Harvey. Since arriving in Texas on Sunday, the Westhampton Beach-based unit has rescued 531 people and several pets as of Wednesday night, according to public affairs officer Michael O’Hagan.
The number reflects the scope of the devastation in the region, O’Hagan said. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 106th saved 162 people in 10 days.
“I’d like to do as much as we can here,” St. Clair said in a telephone interview. “There are people currently trapped or stuck. I’m eager to keep getting out there and helping them out.”
Some members of the 106th are using boats, while others are lifting people to safety from the air, O’Hagan said.
Michael Hartman, 26, of Shirley, navigated the flooded streets of Katy, Texas, in a Zodiac boat, taking care to steer clear of vehicles and street signs submerged under the neck-high water, he said.
With his partners, he has saved more than 50 people and at least 10 pets. Hartman recalled carrying one woman out of her home while she cradled her 5-month-old child.
“Everyone has been happy for the help, but a lot of them seemed like they were in shock,” Hartman said. “So many of them were stuck in their homes. When they came outside on the boats and saw the streets, they just couldn’t believe how everything had changed.”
St. Clair called the devastation both breathtaking and heartbreaking, but he has been amazed by the combined efforts of the military, local police and regular folks floating boats, kayaks and even air mattresses to conduct rescues.
St. Clair said he and his crew circled Beaumont in a helicopter Wednesday, lifting 27 people to safety over the span of 10 hours. To reach some people, they broke into attics and chopped down doors that had swelled in the water and could no longer swing open.
“Some people have been scared. Some people have a look of exhaustion, because you can tell they’ve been out there for a while,” St. Clair said.
He described one person he lifted into the helicopter on Wednesday. They couldn’t hear each other over the roar of the rotor blades, but the person brought their hands together in a gesture of prayer, faced St. Clair and mouthed “thank you.”
“That says it all,” St. Clair said. “That’s all I need.”