Florida cavalry? You bet (an expert’s opinion)!

image002Like much of the nation, we are mesmerized by the plight of Houstonians as the remnants of Harvey continue to wreak havoc on Texas.

Floodwaters continue to rise, levees are breached and an untold number of residents are awaiting rescue from boats, helicopters and high-water vehicles.

The worsening situation in Houston and neighboring areas comes on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall 12 years ago.

Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement that he had dispatched dozens of assets from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to the storm-torn region elicited a silent cheer from this reporter, who spent nearly two harrowing weeks in Biloxi covering Katrina’s devastating impacts more than a decade ago.

Scott’s office released the above photo of FWC officers apparently engaged in a rescue in Texas.

From the press release with the photo:

“Yesterday, nearly 100 FWC officers and nearly 40 boats deployed to Houston to support ongoing response efforts. This weekend, twenty-five FWC officers, 17 high water vehicles, two Mobile Command Centers, eight shallow draft vessels and four patrol boats arrived in Houston after being deployed by Governor Scott.”

In an earlier announcement regarding the deployment of the FWC folks westward, Scott said: “Floridians know first-hand how damaging a storm can be for families and communities and how important it is to have the support of nearby states during these challenging times.”

The announcements about the FWC resources — and the images of water-soaked Houston and wind-ravaged coastal towns like Rockport — brought to mind my experiences in Biloxi, after Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, slicing through bridges, tearing up city blocks, and cutting loose casino barges.

While much of the nation was focused on an escalating disaster in New Orleans — where thousands of people were trapped inside what was supposed to be a shelter — residents of Biloxi were largely forgotten.

They had no water and no electricity. Cell phone towers were splintered, so they had no way to communicate.

Working for The Palm Beach Post at the time, I was there when some of the residents who had evacuated made their way back to their beachfront community, only to find remnants of someone else’s belongings, from blocks away, jumbled amid the shards of what had once been their homes.

The recent images of journalists aiding in rescues in the Houston area reminded me of the morning my photographer and I arrived in Biloxi, hours after Katrina tore through the region.

We spotted a boat, the Luna Sea, situated in the middle of a parking lot, blocks away from the beach.

We heard a dog bark, and became concerned that the critter might be stranded on the vessel, clearly someplace where it shouldn’t have been.

Making our way onto the boat, we discovered a bruised and battered Harvey Shows, 79, stretched out beside his toy poodle, Cocoa, and his black lab mix, Lady.


We made sure Shows — who lost power steering on his boat as he tried to move it from Pass Christian to Mobile — got medical care, and had enough food and water to see him through. He wouldn’t vacate his vessel, but we checked on him every day.

The link to the Post story’s broken, but I found it here, along with a picture of Mr. Shows with his dogs.

Years later, on an anniversary of Katrina’s landfall, I received a call from one of Show’s daughters, thanking me for my efforts to inform her of her father’s whereabouts in the aftermath of Katrina.

The story of the Luna Sea and Mr. Shows is just one of the memories from Katrina. I drove down the beach road with the gobsmacked Biloxi mayor on that first day. We had guns pointed at us when my photographer insisted on taking pictures of looters.

But the point, albeit a long time coming, was the feeling — and the words — we shared when we saw a convoy of FWC boats, swamp buggies and law enforcement personnel headed towards Biloxi in those initial trying days.

“Here comes the cavalry.”