James Creel, 27, isn’t one to sit around when someone is in need.
Late last week, the Crystal River native had been in Louisiana working on a job site for his employer, CB&I, when he got news that the job was put on hold because of the weather — Hurricane Harvey.
Instead of sitting around for a week, Creel put his wife, Amy, and their two young children on a flight back home to Florida on Friday, and early Saturday morning he and a coworker, Shannon Landry, towed Creel’s aluminum jon boat to Houston two hours away.
Using the Zello PTT (Push to Talk) Walkie Talkie app on their phones, Creel and Landry joined up with others in the “Cajun Navy” and started rescuing people who were stranded by flood waters.
“He keeps saying over and over that as bad as the photos you see on the news are, in real life it’s even worse,” said Amy Creel. “When the people get in the boat, all they have with them is a garbage bag or a tub with their remaining belongings in it — that’s all they have now.”
She said her husband has been telling her some of the stories he’s seeing and hearing, about people putting their babies in plastic tubs that float on the water in the streets, hoping that they’ll be able to hold on to them better and keep them safer than if they carried them through the raging currents.
Handicapped, wheelchair-bound children are being carried out of flooded homes and loaded onto boats. Elderly people, unable to climb onto their roofs, have climbed into their attics and can’t get out.
One woman was trapped in her car with her baby who had already missed two days of dialysis treatment and was in severe physical distress.
“James and another rescue boat were able to get to them and got the baby safely to where the baby could get dialysis treatment,” Mrs. Creel said.
She said on Tuesday, her husband counted 119 people who he and Landry rescued — and that was just a small fraction of the number of people who needed help.
“As soon as people get in a boat, they take them to a ‘safe meet’ area, like a Food Town grocery store,” she said. “From there, buses — or they’re loading people in the back of dump trucks and taking them to a Walmart that’s now a safe shelter.
“What’s really unbelievable and gives you hope in today’s society — he said that when he gets the people to Food Town there are people there in their personal vehicles, ready to take people wherever they need to go, even if it’s to family two hours away,” she said.
On Tuesday, someone opened their home to rescue workers, including Creel, and washed and dried their clothes, fed them dinner and gave them a clean, dry place to sleep.
Creel’s mother, Debra Creel, said her son has always been one of the first to help when there’s a need.
“He always goes out of his way for others,” she said.
Creel’s wife said as she listens on the Zello app from her phone, when she hears her husband’s voice saying, “We got another one and everyone’s safe,” she chokes up.
“James always does such wonderful things for people, and he doesn’t do it to get his name in the paper — he doesn’t even know I called the paper,” she said. “But he deserves to be recognized.”
She added that they both grew up in Crystal River, in a close-knit town, and it’s where they were taught what it means to help others in need.
“My husband has become my hero,” she said. “They even rescued an armadillo.”