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Southern hospitality shines through Hurricane Harvey
[TEXAS] When flood waters first seeped into their house, grandparents Bernard and Annie Redeo weren't too worried. But when it rose a foot deep, they made a run for it: fleeing in the pitch-black to neighbours.
They found refuge with a single mom of two. It was 5am, still dark outside and torrential rain was hammering the small farming town of Winnie, Texas yet she didn't hesitate to open the door.
"It's common in Texas. Everybody usually pulls together for a common cause," says locomotive engineer Bernard Redeo, 58. He and his wife raised eight children and now have 16 grandchildren.
Since Hurricane Harvey unleashed record floods, plunging vast swathes of America's fourth largest city of Houston and surrounding areas under water, perfect strangers up and down the state have leapt off sofas to pluck people to safety, make donations and volunteer help.
"They just do. We call it southern hospitality," explains Louisiana truck driver Cynthia Guillory, 51, stranded en route home for a two-week break from Midland, Texas with her Jamaican boyfriend.
"If you see somebody, you're going to go and help them."
With can-do Texan spirit and the pioneering adventurism on which the United States was built, many consider it a duty and an honour to set aside their own lives to help those less fortunate than themselves.
From ferrying perfect strangers to food, to rescuing babies and coming out of retirement to volunteer at shelters, Texans have mobilised far and wide to help out thinly-stretched emergency services.
"It's a tight-knit community and everybody believes in helping everybody. We're hoping that the water will recede within the next day or so, so we can get back and start helping," said Bernard.
Around 3,000 people live in Winnie. When Bernard and Annie went to check on their home Wednesday, they found neighbours already pulling off debris and collecting things that had floated away despite persistent rain.
It is the third time their home has been battered by extreme weather. In 2007 tropical storm Humberto blew the roof off. The following year, Hurricane Ike flooded the property and destroyed the barn.
This time, two feet of water under, they fear they've lost "just about everything in the house."
Their only comfort is that their three horses and several cattle, whom they moved to higher ground, are safe.
Jeeps towing boats of all sizes kicked up spray Wednesday as they plied the flooded main drag of Winnie while rescue helicopters throbbed through stormy grey skies.
"It's pretty hard to sit around and hear about older people and younger people being stuck in homes when we're sitting watching TV," said Justin Coleman, 33, who drove three hours to help from Fort Worth.
"We know a lot of people would come if they could," he said, part of a crew desperate to get to flood-ravaged Port Arthur, on Sabine Lake which straddles the Texas-Louisiana border.
Mr Coleman, who runs a construction company, arrived in the Winnie area at midnight and got up at 5am yet flood waters were so high that he was forced back at first attempt.
"We're on the radio with them right now and every 30 seconds there's another person rescued," he told AFP during a brief pit stop at a gas station while they searched for an alternative route.
"There's a lot of babies and elderly that are stuck in their homes right now. They said it's getting up to their chests."
It's a need to respond that Guillory understands only too well. She saw perfect strangers with regular boats pluck guests to safety from their flooded hotel in Mount Belvieu, just east of Houston.
"It's always like that," she said.
"We know around this time every year we'll have a hurricane or several tropical storms," she said.
"They'll come from all around... That's how Louisiana is though, Louisiana and Texas."