Dwelling on the dangers lurking beneath Florence’s floodwaters isn’t an option for a Victoria native who is assisting in rescue efforts in North Carolina.
“There’s fences, cars, power lines, fire hydrants. There are so many things in the water, and the water is brown, brackish and stinky,” said Ray Ortega, 49. “The water is just bad here.”
Ortega and his two Crossroads friends – Joe Rodriguez, of Victoria, and John Perez, of Refugio – have a job to do.
“We’re on our way to rescue some people right now,” Ortega said about noon Friday.
Navigating washed-out roads and closures, Ortega and his group hoped to make their way to Rocky Point, an unincorporated North Carolina community of about 2,000 that was inundated with floodwater by Hurricane Florence. There, they hoped to rescue trapped residents with Ortega’s $70,000, 23-foot catamaran, which he normally pilots in shallow Coastal Bend waters while fishing for redfish, flounder and trout.
Ortega said he was persuaded to visit North Carolina after speaking with a friend he had worked with to rescue Houston survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
“We are seeing flooding where we have never seen flooding before,” said Tammy Proctor, spokeswoman for Pender County, which includes Rocky Point.
With 24 inches of rainfall, flash flooding, river flooding and fluctuating tides to contend with, Pender County has had more than 1,800 water rescues for more than 3,700 people, Proctor said. Those numbers account for more than half the rescues in North Carolina, she said.
Although the need for water rescues has tapered since Florence’s landfall, the floodwaters have turned many communities, such as Rocky Point, into islands, requiring food, water and other essentials to be taken in by boat. Proctor praised the efforts of local and out-of-state volunteers and professionals in aiding those communities.
“They are helping,” she said.
Ortega said he and his friends aren’t the only boaters to lend their efforts in North Carolina.
After arriving in North Carolina after a 22-hour drive, the Crossroads friends linked up with several hundred members of the Cajun Navy, a Louisiana group that helps those in need after disasters strike.
After dark Wednesday night, Ortega joined the group in an attempt to rescue horses stranded in several feet of water.
They were forced to cease their search because of rising waters without any success in finding the horses.
Although Ortega hopes to continue helping wherever he can at least until Saturday night, he admits the trip is already cutting deeply into his pockets.
Apart from the expected costs, Ortega said some nearby hotels and gas stations have doubled their prices.
A Gofundme.com account has been established for donations to fund the Crossroads rescuers.
“They fuel us to do this,” he said of donors.