Port Arthur TSTA members remember hauling Harvey victims to safety

When Hurricane Harvey dumped tons of rain on Port Arthur, at least two members of the Port Arthur Teachers Association – Wren Loyd and Eric “Sarge” Charon — were among volunteers driving school buses that transported hundreds of people to safety in emergency shelters.

“You could say it was a heroic effort, but my thoughts are not after recognition,” said Loyd, a bus route superviser and driver for Port Arthur ISD. “It’s all about trying to help somebody.”

And, she admitted, hauling busloads of people through driving rain and strong winds was scary.

“We didn’t show it. But we were very apprehensive,” she said, noting that at times she couldn’t even see street markings.

Charon, a security monitor at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, hadn’t driven a school bus in a couple of years. But when the call went out for help on Tuesday, August 29, he was back behind the wheel, helping rescue evacuees from flood waters and drive them to emergency shelters.

For 32 straight hours, Charon recalled, “I was all over Port Arthur picking up people.” By the end of the week, he estimated, he had spent about 50 hours carrying about 800 people to emergency shelters and to the airport, where some evacuees boarded military planes for evacuation to Dallas.

Charon and his 12-year-old son, William, helped families from rescue boats and, in some cases, carried elderly evacuees to the bus. He also put out a Facebook plea for food that resulted in the delivery of thousands of meals for evacuees.

“It was heartbreaking, people coming off boats with babies in their arms,” said Charon, 44, a Port Arthur native who had never witnessed such an extreme weather event. He said he was “blessed” that he didn’t suffer any damage to his own home and added, “That’s what made me go even harder to help others.”

Loyd, who has lived in Port Arthur most of her life, had seen nothing like Harvey either and was grateful her home also was spared damage. But after she delivered a busload of evacuees to the civic center on Tuesday, she and several other bus drivers became trapped with their passengers, marooned by rising water for several hours.

Eventually, on Wednesday she and her fellow drivers were rescued by boat. Then she got another bus and shuttled hundreds of additional evacuees to safety until two or three o’clock Thursday morning.

With the delayed school year scheduled to start next Monday in most Port Arthur schools, Loyd and Charon continue to do what they can to help friends and colleagues who suffered losses. Loyd estimated that more than 200 Port Arthur ISD employees suffered damages of some kind, and she has been making calls seeking donations to help people rebuild their lives.