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After Harvey hit, one Texas nursing home evacuation began with a gun drawn

Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

ARTHUR, Texas -- The front doors to the Lake Arthur Place nursing home were locked when Ben Husser and his team of volunteer rescuers arrived on boats. He knocked, and when somebody cracked open the entrance, he pushed his way in.

The hallways smelled like feces. An old woman in a wheelchair was trembling, her feet dangling in nearly 12 inches of floodwater from Tropical Storm Harvey.

"What's going on here?" Husser asked a nurse. "Why is she shaking? Is she cold?"

Husser, a 45-year-old audio engineer who had hurricane relief experience with the Louisiana Air National Guard, had borrowed a friend's boat and come to help. He made his way inside and tracked down the nursing home's administrator, Jeff Rosetta. Husser was with the "Cajun Navy," he told Rosetta, and ready to evacuate the patients. Empty boats were waiting.

What unfolded next was one of the most surreal scenes in Harvey's already extraordinary assault on Texas.

In the coastal refinery city of Port Arthur, the storm -- which originally hit Texas as a Category 4 hurricane -- overwhelmed emergency responders with 26 inches of rain in a single day, more than double the previous record. Two nursing homes filled with 184 residents were flooded with nearly a foot of water. Even deeper waters surrounded the facilities.

And at the moment, the only rescuers in sight were a ragtag band of volunteers on fishing boats.

"You don't understand, I can't give these people to you," Rosetta said, according to Husser. "I can only give them to the National Guard." He ordered Husser to leave.

"Well, that's not the way it's going to work, man," Husser replied. "These people are leaving."

Words turned to physical blows. At one point, Husser drew a gun.

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