Jet Linx Houston Team Relief Effort
Hurricane Harvey packed a punch as it made landfall along the Gulf Coast of Texas as a Category 4 hurricane on August 25, 2017. What ensued was catastrophic flooding with some areas receiving earth shattering amounts of rain – think of the biggest waterfall in Niagara Falls, Horseshoe Falls, pouring across Texas for roughly nine months.
Texans were forced to evacuate their homes with little to no notice and returned to devastating losses – their homes uninhabitable if still standing, their personal belongings and keepsakes ruined, their vehicles flooded. “The minute Harvey made landfall I started making calls to our team members in Houston to make sure they were okay,” stated Dee Ruleaux, Jet Linx Director of Human Resources. “It was evident we had team members who suffered devastating losses and needed help right away. A team here at the NOC and in Houston worked together to determine the best course of action. Elizabeth [Schneider] and I got to work getting displaced team members into apartments, rental cars, securing furniture while simultaneously creating a YouCaring page for concerned fellow team members to make monetary donations.”
As the storm relentlessly rained over Houston, first responders and an army of volunteers used whatever means necessary to evacuate stranded residents from flood-ravaged neighborhoods – boats of all sizes, jet skis, and even monster trucks joined in on rescue efforts.
Ryan Mills, Jet Linx Houston Pilot, lost everything. “We live on a lake and it wasn’t even supposed to have flooded. We even thought we’d have time to get out, but as soon as the lake crested, the waterbed drained off into the lake in the neighborhood flooding the streets. Within thirty minutes, we barely had any time to get out.” Mills, his fiancé and children evacuated just in time – seeking shelter at a nearby hotel. “After dropping off the family, I drove back to the house and had to park a few blocks away because of all the flooding. I waded through the water back to the house which was still dry hoping to move some of our stuff to higher ground. I was thinking maybe a few inches, but by the time I got done, I couldn’t even get out and had to be rescued by boat!”
Upon waking Monday morning, the hotel was taking in water and lost primary power. The water had breached the make-shift levies around the hotel, shutting down the generators. “Early afternoon we were evacuated by boat and ended up staying with a friend in an apartment for a few days,” Mills stated.
After the water receded, Mills returned home to discover their home a total loss. Three to four feet of water with sludge and sewer backup consumed their home. Total devastation. “My family doesn’t know what we would’ve done without all the help from Jet Linx – not just the help, the emotional support from Dee and Elizabeth and all the other pilots that I fly with, calling in, checking in just to see how we were doing – it meant a lot…it really does mean a lot,” Mills continued. “I’ve only been employed with Jet Linx since December and to be employed by a company that does something like this for a new employee, I can’t express how much this means. I don’t know a company that would do this for their employees no matter how long they’ve been employed with them and everyone I’ve told the story to can’t believe it either.”
Mills feels very lucky and fortunate for the support from his fellow team members, neighbors and complete strangers. “We even had neighbors who tried to save clothes for us – they went in and got our clothes, washed them and tried to save them just so we had something to wear. The kindness of everybody really makes your heart feel good.”
Returning to work and flying has given Mills a sense of normalcy. “It feels really good to be back. I’ve been looking forward to flying and escaping what’s going on and being able to thank the other pilots face-to-face who took shifts while I was dealing with all the cleanup efforts, adjusters, insurance, and trying to find someplace to live.”
Mills recalls his first day back, flying into New York. “We got in late and grabbed something to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings. They had all these Hurricane Harvey relief donation areas – seeing that, it was amazing. I feel like we are in our own little bubble in Houston trying to get by every day and see that these places in New York and New Jersey are helping with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts really put things into perspective. It felt really good to see that!”
Jet Linx Houston Client Service Specialist Isabel Thompson was faced with evacuating her family and three horses. “I first heard of the hurricane turning from a tropical storm while I was at work and immediately called my family to check in. A bit later, my team sent me home so I could start the grueling process of evacuation.”
Thompson knew she had to secure a safe place quickly for her family and horses. “Every hotel in our mandatory evacuation area was booked. I finally found a La Quinta then moved on to finding my horses safe boarding,” she continued. “All boarding facilities were booked or price gouging because of the storm so when the SPCA opened a shelter on Friday in a nearby town I loaded up two of my horses and took them to the shelter. I had to make a very difficult decision – the hardest of my life – to leave my younger horse, but her lack of trailer experience coupled with impending hurricane force winds left me no choice. Time was out.”
Three weeks post Hurricane Harvey, Thompson was finally permitted to return, survey the devastation and reunite her three horses. “Our county has been washed into the Gulf. Our house is two to three plus inches off its foundation, with copious amounts of mold and mildew – but through this process, my family and I still feel very blessed. We have been able to maintain some sense of normality and all the out pouring of love and support has been overwhelming. Jet Linx has been amazing and more than incredibly helpful with all of the support and assistance. We can’t help but count our blessings through all of it.”
Jet Linx Houston Pilot James Kastleman was hopeful his home would be absolved from flood waters. “Midnight Sunday our pool overflowed and the water started creeping up to the house so we drained the pool, opened the gates, starting sweeping water away from the house. By 3:30 a.m., not only did the pool overflow, but now the water was coming in through the doors.”
Kastleman realized there was nothing they could do to prevent the rising water from creeping into the house. His family began moving items inside their home to higher ground – closets, beds, counters. “By 7 a.m. we watched our dog walking around in six inches of water and it kept rising…..eight inches and by 10 and then next thing you know, we had a foot and a half water inside the house.”
The neighbors across the street own a newly raised two-story home and offered refuge for Kastleman and his family, including their dog. “We don’t even know these people that well but they knocked on the door and said, ‘hey come on over, bring whatever food you have – so far we have five families and eight dogs.’”
In waist deep water, Kastleman and his family made their way across the street carrying a few belongings and floated coolers across their street packed with food. “Twenty-four hours later on Monday afternoon, the water started to recede,” Kastleman stated. “Our street was dry but we were landlocked for the next few more days because all the streets to get out of the neighborhood were flooded. We didn’t leave the neighborhood until that Wednesday.”
Water reached a foot and a half inside the Kastleman home, leaving behind soaked furniture, cabinets and walls. “I’m back here every day. The first week I was in as state of shock thinking ‘our house is really devastated.’ Now all concentration is on removing all the wet furniture and artifacts, trying to salvage what we can, removing cabinets, drying things out and working with contractors to get our home repaired.”
Kastleman predicts six to nine months for restoration to be complete. “I got a call just about every day from Jet Linx. After a while, it became very comforting to hear from them. I can’t tell you how this made me feel. I even emailed Jamie Walker and said, ‘what you have done is emotionally overwhelming, incredibly comforting.’ When we moved into the apartment it was such a morale booster. People should be envious to work for a company like Jet Linx. It is heartwarming and emotionally overwhelming to know the support that the company gave.”