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Carthage grad rescues dozens from Houston flooding

August 30, 2017

A Houston resident for the past five years, Carthage alumnus Brett Harmeling ’10 is playing a critical role in the rescue effort after Hurricane Harvey struck the area.

Since Saturday, he’s been transporting residents in heavily flooded areas to safety. His 2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, custom built with 4 feet of clearance for off-roading, allows Mr. Harmeling to enter areas most vehicles can’t.

As part of the rescue effort in Houston, Brett Harmeling ’10 has transported dozens of residents to safety in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Brett Harmeling's Facebook pageAs of Wednesday morning, he counted 47 people he had saved from imminent danger, along with dozens of other passengers. He also transports supplies between emergency shelters as needed.

His own home, on the fifth floor of a mid-rise building, suffered no damage. In fact, some friends have stayed there temporarily.

Mr. Harmeling has slept only about nine hours total in the days since the hurricane — the first one the Wisconsin native has encountered — roared through.

“I can’t sleep, because sleeping means someone could potentially lose their life,” he said by phone during a brief refueling stop.

At first, because of his extensive network on social media, stranded Houstonians reached out directly to Mr. Harmeling for help. Later, county authorities welcomed him into the coordinated response team.

They’ve found people trapped on upper floors, attics, or rooftops. Most are taken to emergency shelters where the capacity is being stretched.

All of the evacuees are strangers to Mr. Harmeling, but he said they’ve responded with gratitude and love.

“I’m a minimalist myself, so I don’t have a lot of things. It’s hard to see people lose everything,” Mr. Harmeling said. “They didn’t have a choice to be involved in this, and it happened.”

The losses go beyond material. With medications washed away, one man died right in front of him.

After five days, the rain has yet to subside in Houston, so Mr. Harmeling remains on high alert. Who knows how many others await help?

Besides working as a financial planner and yoga instructor, he’s active in a couple of nonprofits that promote empowerment and leadership. While this particular rescue role came quite unexpectedly, the Carthaginian more generally had an “intuition in knowing I’d have to step up and be a hero for someone else.”

Follow Brett Harmeling’s rescue work on Facebook (You may need to log in to Facebook to view his profile.)