As Harvey was unleashing biblical amounts of rain on Houston last Sunday, Axelrad owner Adam Brackman rushed to the Braeswood area in an attempt to rescue his girlfriend from her rapidly inundating home near Brays Bayou. The bar-owner-turn-water-rescuer ended up at 610 and Braeswood where a flotilla of rescue boats were being launched into the murky flood waters. When he first got there, unsure of how he could help, Brackman started loading evacuees into his vehicle and shuttling them to nearby shelters. Eventually he managed to climb aboard one of the boats, but the water was too treacherous at that time for him to make it across the bayou to where his girlfriend was hunkered down.
“We were struggling to get across,” he remembers. “The bayou was too rough. It was a rapid current.”
After realizing that he would have to wait until conditions improved before his girlfriend could be rescued (she was scooped up by a military convoy the following day), Brackman turned his attention to helping rescue people who were reachable at that time by the six-person boat he was on.
In the midst of all of the frenetic action, Brackman made a Facebook post asking people to let him know if they knew people in the area who were in need of rescuing so he could try to scoop them up and ferry them to dry ground. Soon after, his phone lit up like a switchboard.
“I just started getting flooded with people contacting me,” he says. “We were pulling out elderly people, kids and families.”
Brackman’s small boat water rescues went on for eight hours that day before he climbed onto an even larger boat that could hold up to 20 people. He continued his rescue efforts until late that evening when darkness made it unsafe to keep going out into the waters.
”Probably the hardest part for me was that when the sun went down it wasn’t safe to keep rescuing people,” he says. “Knowing that people had to spend another night in an attic or in flood waters was just really troubling. I just wanted to keep going and going.”
On Monday, Brackman went back to the boat launching area and found that things were a bit more organized than they had been the previous day. With several police boats in the water, he decided to start helping people from his car, going wherever he could and wading through the water to them.
The previous day, Brackman had received a message saying there was a woman and her elderly mother trapped in an attic with four dogs and three cats. “Bring an axe,” the message concluded. After trying to get people to their home on Sunday to no avail, Brackman set out on foot on Monday to try to rescue them.
“I went over there myself and the waters had gone down,” he recalls. “The streets were still flooded, but you could walk in the house. So I walked in the house and there they were up in the attic still because the 80-year-old mother couldn’t get down the stairs and neither could the dogs. I sat up there with them for about 15 minutes, just talking and giving them water, and eventually the police came and we were able to get them downstairs.”
The neighbors of the mother and daughter offered their kayak to Brackman, and he used it to take the mother, who suffers from alzheimer’s and cancer, to dry ground. The daughter, however, was unwilling to abandon her animals and decided to stay behind at the house as there weren’t any large boats available at the time to transport all of them to safety.
Late that evening, just as Brackman had finished taking a shower and was getting ready for another sleepless night, the daughter called to see if Brackman could help evacuate her since the waters around her home had started to rise again. Brackman immediately called up his friend Gino Vian, who had been making rescues with him, and they set out to attempt to rescue the daughter with a four-person inflatable raft that had come into their possession earlier that day.
”I rallied up Gino and we go over there and the water had risen a lot, but we had that raft,” he remembers. “We parked about four blocks away then we made it in with the raft. The water was about chest high. We made it to her house and put together her belongings then put her and her four dogs and the three cats in the raft and rolled out.”
After getting her and her furry brood to dry land, Brackman sat her up in an apartment he has in Midtown that was empty.
“She’s been doing well there,” he says.
The story of the mother and daughter trapped in the attic is just one of many harrowing rescue stories Brackman can now tell after the several days he spent rescuing people from the flood waters. His endurance and desire to help those in need should inspire other Houstonians to do the same, and he’s continued his good work through helping feed displaced people who are in shelters and organizing supply runs. There is still a ton of relief work to be done, and we’re fortunate we have torch bearers like Brackman in our city to spearhead relief efforts.
The images of destruction that Brackman encountered during his rescue efforts will haunt him, but he says he’s also inspired by the humanity he saw through it all.
”I mean, it’s heartbreaking,” he says. “These family’s homes and memories were all destroyed, but at the same time, you really see the human spirit shine through as strangers are helping strangers.”