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Texas' Angels and Demons Emerge During Hurricane Harvey

A group of teenagers form a human chain to rescue Bandit the dog in Lumberton.EXPAND
A group of teenagers form a human chain to rescue Bandit the dog in Lumberton.
Carson Crosby via Twitter
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Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey has brought destruction that federal, state and local governments have not been able top keep up with. Private citizens, non-profits and businesses have sprung into action, spurred by the now-ubiquitous "Texas Strong" rallying cry that swept in with the storm. Other, less noble creatures have chosen to take advantage of their fellow Texans and be on their worst behavior.  The best and worst of human nature has been on display; here are some examples.

The Angels

Matthew Marchetti — Marchetti, a 27-year-old developer, put together an app Sunday night to help track stranded Houston residents. In the app's first day of operation, according to Quartz, 5,000 people signed up to be rescued on the app and 2,700 of them were safe. Those using his web app, located at houstonharveyrescue.com provide their basic information and exact location. Rescuers, who can also sign up on the site, can then spot and pick up those who are close to them or those in the greatest need.

These teenagers in Lumberton — Watching the video below, it takes some time to figure out what exactly the teens featured in it are doing. Quickly, however, it becomes apparent that they're saving a dog named Bandit from the floodwaters.

Bandit is safe and his owners are grateful: 

The Cajun Navy — Made up of volunteers with bass boats, airboats and other small recreational watercraft, the informally organized Cajun Navy has become a fixture during the southern United States' biggest floods. This time around, they've made their way through Harris County, plucking those who need rescue from dangerous situations. Many of the Louisiana-based volunteers are inspired to help by the aid they've received during floods in their home state.

“We’re trying to do what we can,” Ben Theriot, an engineer whose house near Baton Rouge was flooded last year told The New York Times. “I had people that I barely knew showing up to help me. The best way you can thank somebody for helping you is to go help somebody else.” 

East Texas CERT — In addition to the Red Cross, Dallas' shelters are being staffed by volunteers from the East Texas Community Response Team, which sends trained emergency workers around North and East Texas during crises. Volunteers from CERT arrived last week to help out at the Walnut Recreation Center, the first to open in Dallas, and plan to stick around in the area as long as necessary.

Eric Berger — Berger, the guy behind Space City Weather was in invaluable resource to those in Houston and elsewhere during the storm, providing forecasts that focused on what was possible from the storm, without the hype that often accompanies TV weather. Berger's posts from late last week painted a mostly accurate picture of what was about to happen, which proved vital.

Alberto Onofre — Since the storm hit, Onofre's traveled around the West Oaks and Twin Oaks neighborhood in Houston, picking up however many people he can in his boat.

JJ Watt — On August 27, Houston Texans superstar defensive end JJ Watt announced that he wanted to raise $200,000 to support those affected by Harvey. As of Wednesday afternoon, Watt's raised $6 million. His new goal is $10 million, 50 times as much as he'd hope to raise initially. 

Whataburger — Beloved Texas burger chain Whataburger announced Wednesday that it is giving a total of $2 million toward Harvey relief efforts, including $1 million that will be set aside to assist the restaurants' employees as they claw their way back from the storm.

“To all our Family Members and neighbors who were impacted by this storm’s devastation, we stand with you. The path to recovering and rebuilding is long, but we’re here for you and we’ll get through this together,” Whataburger Chairman Tom Dobson said.

Houston Mattress Kingpin Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale — As Houston's floods were at the worst Sunday, McIngvale threw open the doors on a couple of his comically large furniture emporiums and let those seeking refuge pile onto his merchandise. The Fort Worth Zoo — Wednesday, the Fort Worth Zoo — already giving free admissions to anyone in North Texas from the Houston area — announced that it's sending a team to help the Texas Zoo in Victoria dig out from Harvey.

“The Texas Zoo sustained significant damage, and we are going to help remove downed trees and debris, as well as repair some facilities,” Fort Worth Zoo Executive Director Michael Fouraker said in a statement. “We are taking boats and other transportation, and we also have access to a helicopter if required.”

The Demons

Fake ICE Agents in Houston — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Wednesday that it's heard reports of people going around Houston, impersonating Homeland Security Investigations special agents, ordering people to leave their home. The robbers, ICE said in a statement, are telling people to clear out "presumably so these imposters can rob the empty homes."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Texas Governor Greg Abbott have all made it clear that shelters and other service providers will not check the immigration statuses of those seeking refuge from the storm.

Joel Osteen — Joel Osteen, the millionaire, prosperity-gospel preaching pastor of Houston's enormous Lakewood Church, became one of the earliest villains of the storm when he initially refused to open the cavernous former basketball arena in which his church hold services to be used for a shelter, despite it being dry. On August 28, Osteen tweeted that "Our hearts break as we see the damage and destruction in our city," along with a link to make donations to make donations to his church. A full day later, Osteen finally bowed to the criticism and opened Lakewood's doors to evacuees. He says the city never prepared for him to serve as a shelter. 

The gougers — So far, the Texas Attorney General's Office has received at least 600 complaints related to Harvey. Most of those complaints come from people who feel they've been gouged for bottled water, fuel, groceries and shelter.

"Specifically, we’ve seen $3.50 for gas in Houston, $8.50 for bottles of water and $99 case of water complaints. We also received a complaint about one Houston convenience store charging $20/gallon of gas," spokeswoman Kayleigh Lovvorn said in an email. So far, the attorney general's office has issued at least nine civil investigation demands, and plans to issue many more before this is all over.

Best Buy — Of the gougers, one Houston-area Best Buy deserves a special shout out after getting busted charging nearly $50 a case for bottled water. The electronics retailer later apologized, blaming the gouging on employees who took it upon themselves to sell cases of water at the per-unit price. "As a company we are focused on helping, not hurting affected people. We're sorry and it won't happen again,” the company said in statement.

All those people who left their dogs to fend for themselves. — Repeatedly in the storms aftermath, photos and stories have emerged about dogs left in backyards, in boats or, in one case, on top of a car by their owners. Some dogs have even been found tied up outside. While many of the dogs have been rescued after being featured on social media, many others won't be so lucky. Shelters throughout the state have plans in place to take care of evacuees animals, put in place after many potential evacuees refused to leave their pets during and after Hurricane Katrina. They shouldn't be left behind.

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