Deliverance: How a father-son duo decided to brave Harvey’s waters

Yuko Mori-Akiyama stood in her one-story Meyerland house with flood waters rising to her hip and a panicking 40-pound dog in her arms.

Akiyama first noticed the rapidly increasing water level in front of her house on South Rice Avenue at 3 a.m on Aug. 27. Her sons, Yo (’16) and Taichi, were in Taiwan and Pittsburgh. A dog-phobic neighbor repeatedly refused to let her and Hana the mutt into his two-story house. Her panic increased when the Coast Guard passed by earlier in the day without stopping to pick her up.

Help finally came when senior Evan Hammerman, who had seen Akiyama’s status on Facebook, and his father Steve arrived in a borrowed canoe.

“The water in Ms. Akiyama’s house was so high, we literally rowed our canoe right through her front door,” Evan said. “She was shaking when we got there. I was glad we could help in time.”

After the Hammermans dropped Akiyama and her dog off at a friend’s house, Evan received a phone call from senior Laura Valderrabano, who had seen photos of Evan’s rescue expedition on Snapchat. She asked him to head towards the Galleria area, where senior Andrea Anaya was home alone with no power or cell phone.

“I was in bed, a little freaked out and being overdramatic when Evan suddenly came to save me,” Anaya said. “I was so confused. I had just woken up and he was standing outside with his dad. It was all so crazy, I left without even thinking to bring clothes.”

For the next five days, the Hammermans paddled their canoe through the Gessner and Briar Forest area, where they worked with other volunteers to clear the flooded area.

“It was incredible, people were out there doing everything that they physically could do,” Mr.  Hammerman said. “Everyone was communicating; everyone was working together.”

On the main street, Mr. Hammerman took people to dry ground with an inflatable motorboat after Evan fetched them from their homes on the canoe.

“Doing everything with Evan was a very moving experience,” Mr. Hammerman said. “It was an opportunity to work side-by-side with my son, helping people and showing him that we can actually directly impact people’s lives.”

Once they got to the dry land, they were met by volunteers with supplies and cars ready to transport the rescued people.

“It wasn’t organized by the city or anything,” Mr. Hammerman said. “People just heard what was needed and showed up to help evacuees they had never even met before.”

Wrestling coach Alan Paul joined the Hammermans on Aug. 29. Paul manned the canoe with Evan and recorded the experience with his GoPro camera.

“One man hugged Evan and me and called us heroes after we led him through the floodwaters,” Paul said. “It was very emotional to help someone who was so visibly scared of the water.”

The team encountered non-English speakers and people who refused to leave their houses. After four days, the Gessner and Briar Forest area was almost completely evacuated.

“Rescue personnel tried for two days to get a man in his eighties to leave his home but he would not leave until I took his son to his house to convince him,” Steve said. “It was shocking to me that people wouldn’t leave even with several feet of water in their houses.”

Mr. Hammerman witnessed both Hurricanes Ike in 2008 and Alicia in 1983 but had never seen anything like Harvey.

“I was on the bay when Alicia hit,” Mr. Hammerman said. “The wind and rain were quite impressive, but the flooding was nothing compared to Harvey. We were rowing down Gessner and literally going over cars.”

Evan views his six-day rescue trip as a fulfillment of responsibility.

“Since I was in a situation where I wasn’t affected by Harvey, I think it was my job to help those who were affected,” Evan said. “My house wasn’t damaged and my family was completely okay, so I could either sit at home while other people suffered or go out and do something productive.”