As members of Western Carolina University’s bass fishing club team — the Bass Cats — were in route to assist in the Hurricane Harvey devastation along the Gulf Coast, the rain pelted down on the windshield and the radio kept issuing reports of people who needed to be rescued.
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.
“We’ve already gotten at least 20 folks to safety, probably more,” said Jason Ashe of Sylva, 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.”
The task ahead of the college students was daunting, but they launched their bass boat near Lake Charles, Louisiana, and made their way into the flooded areas to save those who couldn’t save themselves. The Bass Cats described the scene on their Facebook page as more devastating than any news network could ever portray.
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 of Canton, team president. “Along with Colby Shope (of Canton) and Zach Tallent (of Franklin), 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 witnessed 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 was set to return Monday, Sept. 4, but heading home Sept. 1 after local agencies gained control of the situations in that area.
“We are happy to say that we all remained safe, minus some minor bumps, bruises, and exhaustion,” the team reported on Facebook. “This has been one of the most, if not the most humbling experience any of us have ever been a part of. We did not come to Texas seeking publicity, but it has expanded to something beyond what any of us could have imagined. The amount of support we have garnered throughout this journey has been incredible, and we thank you all so much for your thoughts, prayers, and donations.”
Members of the Bass Cats in addition to Ashe, Boyd, Shope and Tallent are Jack Crumpton, Clint Bartlett, Tyler Watts, Will 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-expensesbasscats-travel-expenses.