He had a boat, he had the time and his heart said go
As pictures and updates of the Hurricane Harvey damage came scrolling across Trey Tounzen’s telephone, he felt compelled to act. The Van Buren native had just given his notice at work and had two weeks off before starting his new job. A post from a lady stuck on a roof with her 5-week old baby, asking for help, prompted Trey to use his days off to help others.
“I thought, if that were my sister and little niece, what would I do to rescue them? I have the equipment and I have the time right now,” he said.
Within just a few hours, Trey had his bag packed and his boat loaded. He enlisted the help of his longtime friend Wesley Nash and stepfather Danny, who served as the navigator, and headed for Texas. They didn’t know exactly where they were needed or how they could help, but they knew they could so something.
“You know how when you are heading to the beach and you come over a hill and, all of a sudden, there it is, you see the ocean? That’s how it was with the water there, seeing the flooding,” recalled Trey.
When they first arrived in Spring, Texas, the crew found several boats already on scene.
They joined the efforts, helping to rescue 16 people from an apartment complex. At one point, they were in 15 feet of water and Trey’s boat got hung up on one of the evacuee’s vehicles.
The next day, Aug. 30, they drove through to Port Arthur, where they were among some of the first rescuers in town.
“I literally backed the boat off the interstate into the water,” explained Trey. They were quickly flagged down to a nursing home. There, they helped prepare residents for evacuation, handing out life vests with each individual’s name and medications listed on them. The team also helped get residents out of the standing water, lifting them onto tables and any other higher surface they could find, he said.
“These people had been standing in water since Sunday (Aug. 27). The water was deeper than the toilets. It was the hardest thing I have ever seen in my life,” he said.
One of the things that stood out most to Trey was how so many people, even those who suffered great loss, wanted to do their part to help others.
“Some we would rescue would then ask, ‘What can we do?’ One guy came along and started helping us, and we didn’t know him at all. Some other people came walking up and started handing out cups of Spanish rice. Everyone was just doing what they could.”
Trey used Facebook to let his wife and family know they were safe, as cell service was difficult in many places. Word soon spread of their efforts and shortly thereafter, Trey received a call from CNN. He was interviewed twice by the national media outlet, sharing about the scenes they were encountering.
“It was a little crazy. They called me at midnight and I hadn’t had any sleep.” CNN broadcast several of the pictures Trey had posted on social media, giving viewers a glimpse into the heartbreaking aftermath of the hurricane.
Trey gives all credit to the Lord.
“There were so many God-things about all of this, including me just being able to go. Having the time off is really rare for me.”
He also believes God guided them in their efforts, leading them to folks in need. Trey finds himself at a loss trying to explain the impact it all had on him. “It is hard to convey … there are just no words.”
– Brittany Ransom
This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith magazine.