HOUSTON - Citizen first responders were credited with thousands of rescues during Hurricane Harvey.
With 911 flooded with calls, many families told us if it wasn't for everyday citizens stepping up to help with rescues, they would have never received help. We met two of those citizen volunteers who stood out. Friends who grabbed their boat and became first responders, never imagining the number of people they would help.
Everywhere we looked, there was water. Rushing through neighborhood streets, trapping families in their homes. We found ourselves on a boat, in the middle of rescues where a little girl was handed to me. That’s how we met Veera and her mom, Jenny.
“Feels like a little too late, but you know, we don’t want to have any regrets, so we’re glad we out," said Jenny Amin in August 2017.
She was at a relative's house in the Grand Vista subdivision and couldn’t get out.
“It was one hell of an experience,” said Vikesh Amin, her husband.
For three days they hunkered down in the Fort Bend County home.
“We made several attempts to try to get out, but we knew we were stuck pretty fast," Jenny Amin said. "I called 911, and the lady on the other end was just as sweet as can be, but had told me they were rescuing something upwards of a 1,000 people an hour.”
“At that point, we realized we have children, family, food shortage, for the children," Vikesh Amin said.
The Amin family described the moment they saw a rescue boat coming.
“We felt hopeful. I think we were all emotional, we were just trying to hold it together and survive," Jenny Amin said.
Two trips and two dozen family members finally made it on dry ground.
“I didn’t remember their names, but their faces I don’t think I’ll ever forget," Jenny Amin said.
We caught up with those men who rescued the Amins one year later.
“We were from Fort Bend County. We would go anywhere and help anybody, but this was local," said Bubba Zapalac from Rosenberg.
He and Curtis O'Brien, also from Rosenberg, are everyday citizens who stepped up to answer rescue calls. They've been friends for more than 30 years.
"I remember you guys,” Jenny Amin said as she opened her front door.
"That really touched my heart in thinking they would risk their lives for complete strangers, not once, not twice, but hundreds of boatloads of people they probably saved," Jenny Amin said.
Little did Zapalac and O'Brien know, there were more people in their boat than they first realized.
"He’s a Harvey baby, yeah, you could say that…he’s a Harvey baby," Jenny Amin said.
Jenny Amin was pregnant at the time. Her little boy survived his first hurricane inside his mother's womb. His big sister Veera has no memory of that boat ride. However, for Zapalac and O'Brien, it’s the images of those kids that never fade.
“You never forget,” Zapalac said.
“The whole day. The whole day sticks with you," O'Brien said.
When we asked them if they'd do it again. “Yes, I would," Zapalac said.
"In a heartbeat,” O'Brien said.
"Literally, saving people that’s what they were doing," Jenny Amin said.
“There’s still good Americans. There’s still good Americans out there that want to help,” O'Brien said.
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