Joey Hargrave: “It’s just what we do.”
All the preparation in the world was not enough for what Joey Hargrave, the Interim Police Chief, and Bridge City officers were about to endure in the days following the landfall of Hurricane Ike on Sept. 14, 2008.
However, Hargrave attended frequent emergency management meetings. The closer Ike got to the city, the briefings were every few hours.
“There was a lot of speculation, but we had a pretty good idea the city was going to be flooded,” Hargrave said.
Hargrave saw the water “creeping” into the city about 24 hours before the storm arrived. The areas near the marsh were the first to have issues with the water. Hargrave knew it would only get worse, especially when it started to rain.
Most of the citizens of Bridge City had evacuated leaving the town empty.
“It was an eerie feeling,” Hargrave said.
Finally, at the end of the long day, Hargrave and fellow emergency personnel went to the Mauriceville Junior High School to wait on the storm. They were the last people out and the first ones back into the city. Upon their return while coming down Highway 62, they knew it was going to be bad. On Highway 62, there was water “all over the place,” Hargrave said.
When they reached the Cow Bayou Bridge, there were about 50 people standing at the top. The city had flooded. What was once bustling city streets was now empty except for the debris and water. An officer rode a boat from one end of Texas Avenue to the other.
“It was really surreal,” Hargrave said.
As quickly as the water had come into the city, it also left too. According to Hargrave, being on a marsh has advantages since once the water came in, it also had a means to go out.
Hargrave along with the Mayor, Kirk Roccaforte, and other city officials, rode on large equipment through the city to survey the damage. During this time, they saw many alligators, wild hogs and snakes which had come through the marshes and invaded the city.
Emergency personnel began pulling people, left stranded by the high water, from their attics and rooftops. As the water rose, they had no place to go and went to the highest place possible to escape drowning. More than 200 people were rescued in the first few days.
“The first day was to make sure people were safe,” Hargrave said.
Police officers worked 12 hour shifts for three weeks without a day off. The small staff worked a day or night shift. But, even though their own houses were heavily damaged and exhaustion had long set into their tired bodies, many worked longer than their scheduled shift. This was done freely and without complaints, Hargrave said.
“They did what they had to do and didn’t even think about it. They would have done everything the same way. They knew that’s what they are there for,” Hargrave said. “ I could have not been prouder.”
Plans before the hurricane arrived were made to ensure there were enough emergency personnel to assist during the aftermath. As a result, they arrived from everywhere.
The police department offices located on Texas Avenue had flooded too. So, a trailer was put in front of city hall on Rachel Street. It was equipped with essential radio and computer connections. This made things a bit easier.
The area which received the hardest impact from the storm was the low lying neighborhoods such as in the Dugas Addition.
“There was nothing to stop the water,” Hargrave said.
When the water receded, residents were left with mud, smelly sludge and mounds of reeds. Some houses had several feet of these items. Others suffered in additional ways such as the bricks had simply washed off the exterior of their houses.
Local refineries put together teams which brought wet, ruined furniture from the houses. They also cut out the sheetrock walls and treated the studs to prevent further deterioration.
The community began efforts to pull together to move forward. From there, a rebuilding process had begun and eventually the city was back to its’ former self and once again a thriving city.
‘What was amazing was the people of Bridge City all just wanting a place to stay while they repaired their houses,” Hargrave said. “They didn’t sit and wait for a hand out. The people here took care of themselves and everybody worked together.”
One by one families returned to start putting their lives back together by placing their belongings out in the front yard. Some were only air drying items, while other things were left by the curb to be hauled away.
“What was really sad was for the kids to see their toys being hauled away,” Hargrave said.
Another sad fact was the people who had come seeking to take advantage of the vulnerable citizens. They took the items left along the crowded roadways. At first they were handcuffed and taken to the city limits and told to never come back. However, once the jail facilities were reopened, they were arrested, taken to jail and charged with theft.
Within, six months the officers were finally able to return to the station.
Hargrave and his officers began to settle into their lives and return to what was considered “normal” before the life changing events occurred.
“It’s just what we do,”he said of the efforts put forth by himself and the BCPD.