When there was a lull in the torrential rains and winds of Hurricane Harvey on Sunday afternoon, Tomer Ben Shushan and his wife, Basya, members of the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Houston, knew exactly what they had to do.
“I just looked at Tomer and was like, ‘You’re going out there,’ ” said Basya, a 31-year-old Houston native and CEO of a digital marketing start-up.
Tomer, 35, a contractor, and his friend Mishiko, an engineer at an industrial piping company, had been talking about helping hurricane victims by using a military surplus truck with a small crane that Mishiko uses at work. With the sudden onset of favorable weather, they felt it was time to act.
Despite the favorable conditions when Tomer and Mishiko set out, the trip became problematic during the 30-mile trek to George Bush Intercontinental Airport, where the truck was parked.
Driving through waist-deep water, the two men managed to locate the truck, only to discover that its battery was dead. As the winds began to pick up and heavy rains returned, they struggled for nearly two hours to jump-start the truck and get out of the parking lot.
On the way out of the airport, Tomer marveled at the events as evening approached. “It’s a miracle,” he told Basya. ‘There’s no doubt that G‑d is with us.”
With Basya serving as a coordinator—fielding phone calls and using social media to find people in need—Tomer and Mishiko, both former soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces, drove to Meyerland, an area hit hard by the storm and the center of Houston’s Jewish community. They continued searching for and rescuing people until three in the morning. The next day, they set out again at 8 a.m.
“We found people floating in their homes, often in water contaminated with feces and sewage,” Tomer told Chabad.org. “People with some serious health conditions, especially the elderly, were completely stranded.”
Over the course of the next two days, they continued to venture around the Meyerland, Sugarland and Bellaire areas, ferrying people on a small raft from their homes to the truck.
Word of the two Chassidic Jews driving a military truck quickly caught people’s attention. A reporter from KHOU11, a local CBS affiliate, interviewed the pair aboard the truck.
A video of Tomer and Mishiko helping a mother and her son into the truck quickly went viral, collecting tens of thousands of views on multiple Facebook posts. Taking the child from the clearly exhausted mother, Tomer can be heard in his thick unvarnished Israeli-accent offering words of encouragement, “Go inside, don’t worry… Take a cookie!”
According to Basya, they managed to save more than two-dozen people. “Without a doubt, some of those people would have died,” she said.
Now that much of the flooding has abated, their focus has turned to the repair and cleanup from widespread damage the storm left in its wake. A professional contractor, Tomer has hired a team of six people to help clear away debris and prevent mold from setting into homes at no charge to owners.
We are grateful to G‑d that we were able to assist in the rescue,” said Tomer. “Now we will need to rebuild. “We are praying for unity, and for the healthy recovery for our community and the State of Texas.”