Local Boy Done Good – A Hurricane Harvey Story
Sunday, August 27 was a beautiful day at Lake Oconee in Georgia. Having just returned home from a day trip, Rusty Ledford, owner of The Rusty Tavern in Statesboro, stood outside his home and counted his blessings. He and his new wife, Madison (Maddie) Ledford, daughter of local real estate team Kim and Lin Logan, watched the summertime activity on the lake near their home at Wharfside in Harbor Club, and then made their way inside to watch the evening news.
Hurricane Harvey was continuing to pound the Texas coastline and the fear of catastrophic flooding inland had become a reality. The local news anchors made a plea to anyone with boats to help the flood victims. Flooding water and heavy currents were making escape difficult for the Texas residents, and local officials were quickly falling behind. Thirty-three-year-old Rusty turned to his wife and said, “We need to go help.” With responsibilities that couldn’t be put off at home, Maddie was unable to commit to the trip on such short notice. “I’m fortunate enough to have a profession where I can take time off when I need to, and I have equipment that could be of service there,” Rusty reasoned. “I called my mom and talked it out with her,” he said. “She’s always given me good advice. She said, ‘If you think you should and you can, you need to go.’” That confirmation from a source he trusted only solidified what Rusty already felt in his heart. If he was able, he needed to help.
Several phone calls made to his brother Shawn Ledford and a few of their friends, and Rusty had a companion for the trip. “I was prepared to go by myself but I knew it would be more difficult, so I was grateful that Shawn could come.”
The brothers quickly amassed gasoline and supplies, then loaded up their jet skis. “The news said that they needed boats, but I’ve been on the water all of my life. I know that jet skis are great in heavy currents,” Rusty said. The duo left Greensboro at 9 p.m. that evening and drove all night. “We were supposed to meet up with the First Responders in Dickerson, Texas as soon as we got there, but the flooding forced us off the I-10 highway and we had to take secondary routes. We drove as far as we could, until – splash – all of a sudden we were in water.”
Having reached the outskirts of the destruction around 6 am Monday morning, the brothers were met by police who were actively asking cars to turn around, but letting through trucks with boats who had travelled to help the victims. “They let us by, but told us we were on our own. They said ‘God Bless You’ and waved us by. It was serious then, and very unnerving. We were determined to be as safe as we could while still trying to help, but we did have a few close calls.”
“When the dam was let out, the water rose quickly,” Rusty began. “It wasn’t like a tidal wave, but the water was rushing through. The faster it got, the more you knew was coming. It was nerve-wracking. There was a lot of nervousness and anxiety the whole time we were there. We felt an urgency to get to these people before they were swept away.”
Because the brothers had brought jet skis with them, the pair was assigned to scout areas of flooding to look for t-shirts in the windows, the sign that there were occupants inside. “The problem was that the rescuers weren’t taking down the shirts, so there were some people being left behind because the police thought they’d already checked the homes,” Rusty lamented. “What you all saw on the news…that was child’s play compared to what we saw. The destruction was so much more than what was reported.”
Rusty recounted that the water was so high, he and his brother had to duck under power lines to navigate beyond them. “The water was still rising, so we had to be careful we didn’t go places we’d be unable to return from.” He and Shawn went back through the neighborhoods after the rescue teams evacuated, making sure all the occupants who wanted to leave, could. Many of the houses still had electricity, and Rusty recalls seeing car alarms going off under the water. Still, there were some homeowners who remained voluntarily. One couple though, was very grateful the Georgia Ledford’s came to town. As Rusty and Shawn helped the couple and their Pug dog onto the jet skis, the pug leapt into the water and promptly sank. “He sank like a bowling ball,” Rusty recalled. “I dove for him and felt his leash and dragged him back up.”
In general, Rusty reported that the flood victims were not panicked, as one would imagine. “They all had blank looks on their faces. They were just happy to be alive, I think.” Also happy to be alive were the husband and wife left clinging to a tree after their kayak capsized while attempting to escape their flooding home. “We saw them in the tree and went back to notify the rescuers with the boats to come and get them. We anchored our jet skis to trees down current from them to catch the victims if they fell into the water instead of the boat. If they’d have fallen in, they’d have been lost,” said Rusty.
The takeaway? The Ledford brothers are glad to be home – warm, dry, and with their families. “It was frustrating. We wanted to help more,” he says emphatically. “The real heroes there were the Cajun Navy. They brought over 2000 people and split up into groups across the state. They rescued over 7,000 people,” Rusty said. “They were amazing.”
You know what, Rusty? We think you’re pretty great, too.