As the waters rose five feet and higher during Hurricane Harvey, Sharon Swanson Evans and Kenny Evans used their boat to rescue their neighbors.

By Elizabeth Holmes
Updated January 29, 2018

Last August, as Hurricane Harvey threatened Houston, Sharon Swanson Evans and her husband, Kenny Evans, emptied their refrigerator. When forecasts worsened, they readied their boats.

The couple live in the city’s Energy Corridor, near a pair of reservoirs that were overwhelmed by record rainfall. When the Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water from the dams, portions of their neighborhood experienced severe flooding. “The water came up five feet very, very quickly, and people got stuck trying to get out,” recalls Kenny.

The morning after the first release, Sharon, 46, saw a request for help on her neighborhood’s Nextdoor page. The Evanses’ home was spared, but their neighbors weren’t so lucky. So Kenny, 51, launched his 16-foot aluminum johnboat and went to help the neighbor in need. Along the way, he was bombarded with more rescue pleas. He began transporting people to safety, slowly making his way deeper into the neighborhood where conditions were more treacherous. The water was “rushing like a river,” he says.

Kenny, a contractor and U.S. Coast Guard–certified captain, quickly understood how serious the situation was, even when his neighbors hesitated to accept help. “I’m here to take you to safety,” he said, instructing them to put their valuables and some clothes in a garbage bag and lock the door on their way out. Sharon, a psychologist, stationed herself near the entrance of their subdivision to help coordinate the efforts and wade through shallower water. She and a friend loaded a man in a wheelchair into an inflatable canoe and pulled him to safety.

The Evanses were without power for 11 days but helped hundreds of people. “Kenny kept telling me to go home and relax,” says Sharon. She refused. “So I could sit in the house, turn the generator on, and watch the news?”

“No,” she told him. “I can go out and help people.”