Mark C. Austin’s Meyerland area home, about six blocks off of North Braeswood Bayou, didn’t flood over the weekend, but the water got pretty close — too close for comfort.
“It got all of the way up to my door and stopped,” says the local music scene staple who owns The Convoy Group, which manages a host of local solo artists and bands, including The Suffers and The Tontons.
Austin had preemptively evacuated his home on Friday after buying supplies and prepping his home for the impending deluge, and was hunkered down in Montrose where he planned on riding out the storm.
But when one of his neighbors sent him a photo of his nearly flooded home, Austin knew he had to get out there and find a way to help the many families trapped in his rapidly flooding neighborhood.
“I was going to ride it out in Montrose and hope for the best, but then I saw all hell break loose,” he says.
Spurred by a Facebook post asking for people with high vehicles to help assist pulling people out of the Bellaire and Meyerland area made by Axelrad owner Adam Brackman, who spent much of the weekend rescuing flood victims by boat, Austin took off with friend Jonathan Beitler, owner of Barrelhouse Media, in The Tontons’ large white tour van and started driving down the interstate towards the destruction.
At the Braeswood exit on 610, they ran into response teams from Orange County, Salt Lake City and Houston who were already working hard to rescue people by boat from homes and apartments that were flooded in the area.
“We just pulled up and they asked us what we were doing there, and we told them that we have this big van and our friend [Adam Brackman] is out there in a boat and he says you could probably use our help,” Austin remembers. “They asked us how many people we could fit, and we told them we could fit as many as could fit in the van. So we just started making runs.”
As boats started unloading evacuees on the highway, Austin and Beitler would start loading them up in the van to allow them a safe place to dry off before ferrying them to area shelters once the van had reached its maximum capacity.
The van, which Austin describes as “a big piece of shit,” made six of these trips on Sunday.
The Suffers frontwoman, Kam Franklin, spurred by a desire to help those affected by the flooding, joined Austin in his continued efforts on Monday when she took over Brackman’s vehicle and started ferrying people to shelters as well.
Austin ended up making four trips on Monday before changing directions and heading up to the Northeast corner of town, up to Lockwood and 610, to start assisting the National Guard in removing people from that area as well.
“Both sides were real scary,” he says. “Some of these folks were in their attics with their dogs, some were in nursing homes, we had a paraplegic, we took in strays, you name it.”
“The van smelled so terrible at the end of it,” he laughs. “It’s got the spunk of a thousand wet dogs in it right now.”
On Tuesday, Austin and his friends changed channels and started using the tour van to deliver supplies to donation spots and shelters, including three delivery runs to Lakewood and two to BBVA where he delivered items collected by local mainstays like The Secret Group, Oui Banh Mi and Eureka Heights Brewing.
Today, Austin is still continuing his good work on behalf of the victims of the mass flooding event, in spite of the fact that seeing his city so inundated by flood waters has left him rather shaken.
”It’s kind of hard for me to be alone right now because when I stop to think about it for even a second I start getting really emotional. I’ve been here since 1999 and I’ve seen everything from Alison to Katrina, Rita and Ike. I’ve seen some pretty crazy shit,” he says. “From an emotional perspective, I’m unstable right now because I’m super sensitive when people say something negative. I’m super excited when we save somebody, but then when you’re alone and you start to think about it at night, you’re like, ‘I’m dry, I’m home, I have a shower. I’ve had a meal.’ There are still a lot of people all over the city that don’t have any of those things right now. I’m not somebody who really is that emotionally open all of the time, but I’ve been fighting back tears for some days now. When I saw that bit of sun peak out after the storm had ended I had a little moment.”
Austin, who says he feels like he has a torch to bear right now, says he’s going to keep working as hard as he can until there’s no more work left to be done.
And for those who want to help but are unsure of what they can do specifically, he has this to say:
“Don’t waste a bunch of time considering it. Just go up to one of the places that need help. No one’s going to turn you away. And if they do, it’s for a very good cause. But don’t stop if that happens, go somewhere else. And if that one doesn’t need you, find another one. And if they only want you to donate shit, go get some shit to donate. In these types of situations, you can’t wait for someone to tell you to do something. You can’t wait for direction. You can ask for it. You can research for it. But if it doesn’t come to you then you’ve just got to get out and go do it yourself. You’ve got to drop any preconceived notions of how this should work and go from your gut and from your morals and do what you know is right in your heart. Just go do something — anything. Even if it’s picking up trash. Whatever it is, it’s going to take the entire city to fix the problem. It’s not going to happen by 50 or 60 people doing it. It’s going to happen by millions of people getting up and getting active.”