They arrived at night, so the first time Brian Erickson and his friends glimpsed Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in the Houston area was in the morning light last Thursday.
Once-cherished or useful possessions such as wedding albums, furniture, washers and dryers, were jumbled together and piled 15 or 20 feet high on lawns.
The stuff, turned into debris by drenching rain and rising floodwaters, was now trash.
“It was humbling,” the Northwest College men’s basketball coach said. “It was really, really sad. You just felt so badly for the people. They had to throw everything out.”
Erickson embarked on a mission of help last week through a friend from Oregon who owned a business with a branch in Houston and worried for a key employee.
For Erickson, 33, the Trapper coach who preaches doing the right thing in life, this was one degree of separation from the natural catastrophe.
Living in Powell with his young family, putting the players on his 2017-18 team through conditioning drills, it would have been easy to say he had obligations when his pal Nathan Wiedenmann sent out an all-points-bulletin for assistance.
Erickson and Wiedenmann are part of a tight core of friends from Oregon, Utah and Wyoming who take man-cations together each year. Usually, as Erickson put it, they hang out at a remote cabin, fishing, drinking beer and playing games like Frisbee.
“They’re like brothers to me,” said Erickson of the men in their 30s and 40s.
Wiedemann cranked up the equivalent of a rolodex in texts to round up the gang. He named the expedition “The Backs of Men Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort.”
Relief was needed where boats were paddled down city streets, cars floated and homes were destroyed after up to 52 inches of rain deluged southeast Texas at the end of August and killed about 70 people.
Wiedemann raised money to transport his volunteers to Texas, nine, counting church members. Erickson departed Billings, switched planes in Denver and flew into Austin because nobody knew if George Bush International Airport in Houston would be functioning.
The group rented a large van and a shopping stop was made for hammers, pressure washers and 40- to- 50 gallons of bleach.
Their destination was the planned community of Kingwood in northeast Houston. Experts stated Harvey was an equal-opportunity demolisher, afflicting the rich, the poor and the middle class.
This home of Wiedenmann’s friend was in a well-to-do neighborhood. Eight days earlier the family evacuated in a boat as four feet of water spread on its first floor.
The men started with this house, went next-door, moved down the block, responding with grunt work for teachers, police officers, anyone seeking help, toting rubbish to curbside for FEMA pickup and discard.
Erickson was mopping a floor, clearing what he thought was mud. Only it was sewage. He helped move a refrigerator outside and sewage leaked out.
“The smell was the worst I’ve ever experienced,” he said.
This is what the aftermath of ruination looks like up close following all that roiling water in TV shots the world saw from afar.
The men arrived on the streets as strangers, working Thursday, Friday and Saturday before flying home Sunday. People adopted them, fed them. Some called them angels for helping.
Erickson said they announced no thank-yous were necessary, only being told what to do next.
Americans’ hearts were tugged when witnessing the drowning of Houston. Some gave money. Some gave time. Demoralized people need muscle, moral support, and shown someone cares.
That was the multi-pronged relief package the crew delivered.
Erickson’s basketball players will volunteer at the upcoming Buffalo Bill Art Show, toting paintings to the stage. They help the elderly move on request.
Before leaving, Erickson told them he knows he asks a lot of them as community role models and this was his turn to aid someone in need.
At 6 a.m. Monday, Brian Erickson was back at the gym to lead conditioning drills.
The Houston experience was still raw. Sometimes he gets chills over what he saw. Sometimes he gets teary-eyed.
But Erickson knows being a man who lent his back to a cause for a few days was a righteous thing to do.