Ranchers Reach Out After Hurricane Harvey
By Ellen H. Brisendine
Photos by Coleman Locke, Hungerford, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and TSCRA Special Ranger Jimmy Belt
More than 4,500 members of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) ranch in the swath of the Texas Gulf Coast that was hit by Hurricane Harvey Aug. 25 and the days following.
Texas Agricultural Extension Service estimated the storm affected 27 percent of the state’s cow herd. The 54 Texas counties declared a disaster area due to Hurricane Harvey contain more than 1.2 million beef cows, according to a USDA inventory report.
Harvey poured 50-plus inches of rain on some parts of the area from Aransas Pass to Beaumont and Port Arthur. At the west edge of the storm area, wind damage was rampant. At Aransas Pass there were reports of 102 mile-per-hour sustained winds, gusting to 132 miles per hour. On the eastern edge, swollen rivers topped their banks and floodwaters stranded people and livestock.
On Aug. 29, 11 TSCRA special rangers mobilized to the counties affected by Hurricane Harvey. Larry Gray, TSCRA executive director of law enforcement and theft prevention, reported that the special rangers assisted in gathering, hauling, sorting and returning to their rightful owners 1,967 head of cattle, 273 horses and 2 mules.
From the beginning of the storm, TSCRA members and ranchers from around the country contacted the association with offers of pasture, hay, building supplies, feed and any other needed resources.
The TSCRA officer team activated the Cattle Raisers Relief Fund (CRRF) on Aug. 30, and generous donations were made to the fund from members and supporters. The CRRF is administered by the Texas Cattle Raisers Association Foundation. In October, ranchers in the affected area could apply for funds for rebuilding efforts. More than $175,000 was donated to the CRRF.
As the floodwaters receded, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service set up animal supply points to receive and redirect donated supplies to those in need. During the entire event, daily conference calls kept the information flowing among the team of state agencies and livestock groups. These calls alerted the responders to livestock and human needs and reported on the redirection of goods and supplies to meet those needs.
On Sept. 13, the TSCRA special rangers demobilized and returned to their districts. TSCRA continued to receive reports of a few missing and estray cattle and horses due to Hurricane Harvey, but most of the livestock were accounted for and transported as directed by the owners.
By mid-September, conditions had improved enough that the animal supply points began to close. During the Hurricane Harvey event, 14 animal supply points had been established to match generous donations with needs.
In their words…
TSCRA members shared some of their experiences and lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey.
George Harrison, Bay City
Every morning, I wake up to green pastures. On that particular morning, it looked like the bay.
We witnessed Mother Nature’s fury and were humbled by its devastation and force. We saw events that we have never seen, and we hope we never see again.
We had lightning strike a group of bulls, 4 of them. About 30 minutes later, 3 of those bulls got back up and revived themselves and said, “Thank God,” right?
We were constantly trying to keep ahead of the water. We were driving cattle out of 4 feet of water. Fortunately, we kept finding higher ground on which to put them.
We had calls asking, “How you doing? What do you need? What can we do to help?” We had calls from our Special Ranger Tommy Charbula, saying, “If you need a cow crew we’re not far away. We can get to you.” We also had directors like Susan Roach, who texted me asking, “What can I do to help? Do you need to bring cattle up here? Can I send hay to you?”
It was unselfish actions like these examples that gave us strength and courage to continue the fight. At the local level, we felt like we were Minute Men from the Revolution, just attacking things as they came up, handling things as we could.
We learned that we were never alone and that was really important. Individually we were extremely vulnerable, but united we were unstoppable. I just want to say God bless TSCRA.
Bob McCan, Victoria
We had 12 to 15 inches of rain in a 2- to 3-day period. We’re kind of used to that kind of rain every once in a while. But the wind was…well, we severely underestimated what we would have.
On all the ranches around us, including our operation, 75 to 80 percent of the windmills were damaged or complete losses. So, after the storm, we found ourselves in a situation where we had to get water — stock water to livestock — very quickly.
Leroy Ezer, Anahuac
First of all, I’d like to say that I appreciate you all. The calls we got meant a lot to us. We were blessed. We had no damage, our cattle were in good shape.
We managed to take 300 head of our neighbors onto our ranch.
Compared to what happened during Hurricane Ike, we were fine. The floodwater this time had a lot of debris in it and caused a lot of destruction, but for us, it was so minor I won’t even mention it.
Coleman Locke, Hungerford
Well, it was an experience that we would definitely not like to have again. Fortunately, it was nothing we couldn’t stand and we didn’t have any great losses.
But what was so moving to me was the outpouring of help and support. Our phones almost burned up. We had Facebook messages. We had telephone calls. We had emails saying “What can we do? Let us help. Send us cattle if you need to send cattle to get out of this.”
There’s no way I could my express my appreciation to all of you and all our industry partners who cared so much about what was going on in that part of the country.
Basically, we came through it unscathed. We’re almost back to normal. It was very inconvenient but a lot of folks lost a tremendous amount in that storm.
While we didn’t get the wind, we got the flood, so everybody had a different situation. But I just want to say thank you for the support that you gave to our part of the world during this storm. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your support. ❚
“Hurricane Harvey Response” is excerpted from the November 2017 issue of The Cattleman magazine.