Amid the ongoing disaster along the Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Harvey, Western Carolina University is lending a helping hand through members of its fishing club team, the Bass Cats.
“We’ve already gotten at least 20 folks to safety, probably more,” said Jason Ashe, team member and relief effort organizer, in the dawn hours of Thursday, Aug. 31. “You don’t stop to count ― you just get it done, then move to the next call.”
Equipped with four pickup trucks and four boats to provide rescue and emergency support, a dozen members of the team left campus the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 29. They arrived in Lake Charles, Louisiana, around 3 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Aug. 30, unloading medical supplies, canned food and water before leaving for Orange, Texas.
Once there, they were met with an immediate demand for services. Jefferson County, Texas, Sheriff Zena Stephens told multiple news outlets that the entire area was in dire need of a large number of water rescues because of massive flooding and limited response resources.
“My very first call was for an evacuation of a 90-year-old woman who was immobile,” said Jacob Boyd, team president. “Along with Colby Shope and Zach Tallent, we got her out of the flooded house and loaded her, in her wheelchair, then took her to shallower water where her son was waiting with a pickup truck. She said the water just rose overnight. She woke up with water filling the house, leaving her stranded.”
The WCU fishing team, founded in the spring of 2013, competes in a variety of fishing tournaments and series. For the relief efforts, instead of rods, reels and tackle boxes, they left campus with first-aid kits, locally-donated bottled water, containers with gasoline, hygiene items, life vests, Bibles and clothes.
The team is witnessing the personal toll the storm has taken on residents of the region. “It’s such a sad situation,” Ashe said. “You’re boating down what used to be a street, with cars and homes submerged below you, and you think about the people who have worked hard to build a life and lost everything.”
Working alongside other rescue units such as the volunteer Cajun Navy, local EMS, and sheriff and fire departments, Boyd said he saw another impact of the flood. “This is dangerous work and you see the stress, fatigue and anxiety that comes from that and being overworked. There’s so much tragedy all around. I’m so glad we’ve been able to be a part of rescues and a happier side of things.”
The team expects to remain in the area for relief efforts through Sunday, Sept. 3. Other members in addition to Ashe, Boyd, Shope and Tallent are Jack Crumpton, Clint Bartlett, Tyler Watts, Will Crumpton, Jack Crumpton, Parker Jessup, Josh Cannon and Austin Garren.
A Go Fund Me page has been created to help defray team expenses and pay for relief supplies. To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/basscats-travel-expenses.