The kids were the toughest part, because a kid cooped up somewhere he doesn’t want to be is a caged tiger, pacing back and forth, dreaming of anywhere else. A day is forever, a week is eternity, and the rain is personal.
“They’d be asking questions of their mothers,” former Nebraska Cornhuskers I-back Ray Coleman recalled. “Especially if they were separated from their house, it gets hard on the kids. You try to make sure some of the kids are OK.”
Just take care of your mom, he told them. If you all take care of her and don’t bug her, everything will be all right. You’ll see.
Roads and tears dry, but not without scars. Hurricane Harvey left a reported $190 billion in damage; Hurricane Irma, another $100 billion.
Homeowners in the Florida Keys this week are being turned away from the kindling that used to be their houses and businesses, the pieces from Irma too scattered to reassemble so soon. Harvey reportedly left at least 70 dead in Texas, including a Houston police officer.
— HCSOTexas (@HCSOTexas) September 13, 2017
“It’s just those types of things that happen,” said Coleman, a Houston policeman himself. “This is Americans giving their all, giving what they’ve got. Giving up their lives trying to help other people out. This is America. That is what America is supposed to be about.”
A deputy in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Coleman spent six straight days at Lyndon B. Johnson hospital earlier this month, trying to help keep peace and sanity as Harvey blew through town.
They guarded prisoners. They protected evacuees seeking shelter. Some got on a bus to Austin, seeking dry ground.
“I wasn’t doing anything extraordinary,” Coleman said, “other than doing my job.”
Coleman, who lettered for the Big Red in 1987 and 1988, has done his job in Harris County for 26 years, through heat waves and tropical storms. Allison. Ike. Harvey.
They’ll be back.
“I’ll tell you what,” the ex-Husker told Land of 10. “The outpouring of love that’s down here — it just shows what we truly should be and can be, and probably really are as a country, [moreso] than what it seems out there. The helpfulness of everybody all over the country, this is America. This is the America I know. And this is what America should be.”
‘The highway I use to get downtown … it literally looked like it was a river.’
— Former Nebraska Cornhusker and former Houston Oilers defensive back Allen Lyday on Hurricane Harvey’s impact
Open hearts, open doors, open arms, open pantries, open checkbooks.
What was that line from The Music Man? We’ll give you our shirt. And a back to go with it.
“I saw (Irma) and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness,’” said another ex-Husker in Houston, former Oilers defensive back Allen Lyday. “I’ve been though that — I think it was Hurricane Ike. I got on the road, went up to Dallas, and it took me 8 hours. Which is normally about a 3-hour drive to get to Dallas from Houston, and I was trying to go on back roads so I wouldn’t hit traffic. It wouldn’t matter. When you have 6 million people leaving all at once, there’s going to be some traffic.”
And when Mother Nature gets surly, there’s going to be collateral damage.
“The highway I use to get downtown, 288, it literally looked like it was a river,” said Lyday, who’s based south of the city center in the suburb of Missouri City, Texas, away from the worst of the flood zone. “I wasn’t going anywhere soon.”
A former Big Red walk-on, Lyday appeared in 36 games with the Oilers from 1984 through 1987. He’s been a fixture in the community for the better part of three decades now, through good times and bad, in sickness and in health.
“You’d see on television the flooding and the [volunteers] that were going on in certain areas and you know, as you’re looking at it, [going] ‘OK, that’s not too far from me,’” Lyday said. “So I had these moments [where] it’s a little scary.
“But it’s amazing … how strong people here are in coming together. And I think that’s one of the things that’s unique about Houston. When things get tough, they don’t separate. They come together and combat whatever adversity faces them.”
‘This is Americans giving their all, giving what they’ve got, giving up their lives trying to help other people out. This is America. That is what America is supposed to be about.’
— Former Nebraska I-back and Houston resident Ray Coleman on the recovery from Hurricane Harvey
You learn how to grill without power. You learn how to function on fits and starts of sleep in small, intermittent doses, far from the comforts of home.
“[You’d] try to get up to five through eight [hours], but you really can’t get it,” Coleman recalled. “We were telling everyone, I said, ‘You know what? I’m better off trying to stay awake.’ You try to take a nap, but your body was just so hyped up.”
After his first night back at the house in ages, Coleman woke up the next morning and went back to work.
Nothing extraordinary. Just a 12-hour shift, giving what he’s got.
“So I think, as a group, we did a good job,” Coleman said. “We had each other’s backs, which is the most important thing.”