When Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast, causing catastrophic damage and flooding, people came together from all over the country, and even the world, to assist those affected. Local Anza resident Brian Linderholm organized a humanitarian mission to help with rescues, food and medicine distribution and security in the devastated areas.
Linderholm is a Navy veteran who worked with swift water boats and was a volunteer firefighter in Baldwin Lake, California. He has also had job in security, which means he received training in CPR and first aid. He said he wanted to use his skills to help those in dire need.
“I just saw the devastation and the people suffering, and it really hit me hard to know as I sat watching my TV, fellow Americans were trapped in floodwaters with no food or drinking water,” he said. “I was a part of rescue efforts in New Orleans during Katrina and knew I could help out.”
So Linderholm joined forces with two San Diego firefighters and emergency medical technicians that were qualified in search and rescue, CPR and first aid and one was a journeyman electrician. They headed out for Texas as soon as they could organize for the trip. The excursion was paid for out of their own pocket and from a GoFundMe account to collect charitable donations for their cause. They arrived to total chaos, with hundreds of people in obvious need.
“Our first day there we got a call on our dispatch app of 400 people stranded in a flooded area,” Linderholm said. “We were one of the first groups there and pulled out multiple people and pets that day. My boat broke down, and I had to pull it with stranded dog in it through waist-deep water and a pretty good current about a half mile to get back to dry land.”
They spent seven days doing search and rescue and security in real danger. In Vidor, Texas, they arrived to see rampant looting and gunfire amid people in desperate need of aid, Linderholm said. The men had to arm themselves to ensure their safety as they went on their rounds.
People were not the only victims. Linderholm and his companions spent a lot of time saving pets, even dogs that were chained and threatened by the rising water.
From Vidor, Texas, they traveled to Beaumont, Texas, and performed security detail to supply convoys that were threatened by armed looters, he said. They escorted trucks full of food, water and other supplies to affected areas where they were needed. They also swept neighborhoods by watercraft, assisting the elderly and infirmed with water and medication deliveries.
“In all seven days, I slept 13 hours,” Linderholm said. “But I feel we really made a difference. By going out there we directly saved at least 12 lives.”
He admitted that touching base with the homefront was a sporadic effort at best, and he knew his family was worried. His wife Leslie posted updates on social media whenever he was able to connect, he said.
“Keeping strong after five days and sleepless nights,” she wrote on Facebook’s Anza Bulletin Board. “Going out in a small boat in high currents to rescue the stranded from the water that has destroyed their homes, neighborhoods and cities that are not only flooded with water, but now dangerous with armed looters. Thank GOD you guys are safe! They also delivered food, water, clothes, and other necessities to those in need.”
While on his humanitarian mission, Linderholm met with the founder of a group called HARP, Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project, an organization that assists people all over the world. HARP is a global emergency response team that specializes in rapid deployment of critical aid to remote areas experiencing war, famine and natural disaster and in ongoing dedication to those areas until those affected are made whole again. Linderholm plans to work with this group in south Sudan and Haiti in the near future.
After a week, the team left for California and home, knowing they made a difference.
Linderholm wanted to thank the many people that helped make the trip possible, he said.
“Special thanks to my wife and my family for being understanding of me leaving the family to go help others,” Linderholm said. “Also, to the countless veterans that were out there on their own dime pulling people out of the water.” He also wished to thank the kindhearted souls that donated generously to the GoFundMe account, he said.
“Being out there in the flood water really shows you that America is strong and gives you hope for humanity,” he added.