SIU professor assists Harvey rescue efforts



A large boat storage facility teeters on the brink of collapse after being ripped apart by Hurricane HarveyTexas in Rockport, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

By Marnie Leonard

SIU professor Erin Perry and her canine partner Zorro have been engaged in rescue efforts in Houston since Thursday in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey, which has resulted in catastrophic flooding throughout the city and at least eight deaths, according to Texas officials.

“It’s really overwhelming,” Perry said. “Quite frankly, it just makes us more and more determined not to leave until the job is done … we just want to save as many lives as we possibly can, and we’re literally working as hard as we possibly can.”

When it touched down in coastal Texas on Friday, Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane that ripped through towns, collapsed buildings and pummeled Houston with 25 inches of rain in two days. Another 25 inches of rain are expected to fall by Saturday, according to the Weather Channel.


Perry, a member of the animal science department who has also been a canine handler with the Department of Homeland Security for 14 years, is a part of the search-and-rescue team Missouri Task Force One.

She said the task force was activated Thursday night and they drove all through the night, arriving in Texas late Friday.

The team got to work straight away, Perry said, initially performing rescues in Rockport, Texas before moving to southwest Houston. They are mostly engaging in swift water rescue operations, which occur when residents are trapped and have to be rescued or evacuated from their homes.

Perry said oftentimes, the rescues are sitting on the roof of their houses because the water has gotten so high that it is no longer navigable by vehicle. At that point, rescuers have to go in by boat, she said.

“We sometimes rescue entire neighborhoods,” Perry said.

Perry said the federal effort has so far made several hundred rescues. On Monday, the team had to evacuate a nursing home and save the residents from flooding, she said.

“We’re constantly being given new information about critical areas,” Perry said. “We’re trying to respond to all of it as quickly as we can.”


Missouri Task Force One is a 45-member team that consists of physicians, structural engineers, canine handlers, firefighters and paramedics, Perry said.

Perry said many have asked her what they can do to help the people in Houston and the surrounding areas who are being affected by the storm. She said she encourages everyone to donate to their favorite charity.

“The people in Texas are going to need your prayers and your support,” Perry said. “Whatever way you can help, it is definitely needed and certainly appreciated.”

Despite the emotional toll the evacuation efforts have taken on all those involved, Perry said the outpouring of support for Texas has been “fantastic.”

“Nobody’s worried about religion, nobody’s worried about politics, nobody is worried about anything, truly, other than saving lives right now,” Perry said. “When we’re going through our very worst of times, you see the very best of people.”

Campus editor Marnie Leonard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

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