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It’s a small world after all


Back in the spring of 1997, I was working in Prince Albert, Sask., plying my trade as a sports reporter. I worked the odd hours one does covering major junior hockey, getting to cover the likes of future NHLers such as Shane Hnidy, Chris Phillips, and other members of the Prince Albert Raiders. There was also the high school sporting scene, golf, softball (or fastball, as it's sometimes called) and plenty of other sporting events I was called on to report on. It was a great gig, no doubt about it.
The Prince Albert Daily Herald was a daily paper and as such they had a number of quality reporters and editors on staff - people who have won national investigative honours and who really knew how to flesh out a news story. But when the flood of the century hit Winnipeg, they looked to their young sports reporter to pen something about it for our readers. The reason? My aunt and uncle lived in the Manitoba capital, mere meters from the Red River, on the verge of having their home washed away in the blink of an eye.
That spring flood came about due to a massive blizzard which dumped 50 centimeters in the Red River Valley in early April. Added to the snow which had already fallen that winter; it created a perfect storm, so to speak, for springtime flooding. My family dodged a bullet that year, thanks to many volunteers and "Duff's Ditch", but many more families outside Winnipeg were not so lucky, and lost everything.
I called the circumstances surrounding that flood a "perfect storm". That is also an apt way to describe recent events - specifically Hurricane Harvey, which has struck the southern coast of Texas with an unprecedented storm for that region.
The hurricane was bad enough, but the rainfall which followed absolutely drenched the region. In some areas, more than four feet of rain fell. Imagine 109 centimeters of rain falling from just one storm. Compare that to the 50 centimeters of snow which fell in the Red River Valley 20 years ago to cause the "Flood of the Century", and you start to get a sense of just how devastating this storm has been.
It's approximately 3,195 kilometers from Swan River to Corpus Christi, Texas, placing it slightly out of the coverage area of the Star and Times. So why are we talking about a hurricane in Texas?
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Much as I had a personal connection to my aunt and uncle who had to sandbag around the clock to keep their home safe, so too do many readers have a personal connect to Corpus Christi and Texas. That includes the friends and family of Josh Tripp, who is about to begin his second season with the IceRays of the North American Hockey League. Many readers might also recognize his coach, Brad Flynn, who served as an assistant coach with the Stampeders a few years ago. Others might have their own friends or family in southern Texas, or have a winter home in the area - Texas has become a popular place for people from Western Canada to escape winter's icy grip.
Flynn and his family now live in Corpus Christi year round, while Tripp arrived at his billet's home literally on the eve of the hurricane hitting the mainland. Both were able to flee just before Harvey hit, and have since returned to the area, trying to get back to some semblance of their regular routine - if that's even possible in the aftermath of such carnage.
"We were just preparing for training camp and players were starting to come in on the day the hurricane hit," said Flynn. "We got notice from the arena and the fire department that we had some serious issues with the weather, and so ended up evacuating on Thursday evening (Aug. 24).
"We drove to Dallas, about 400 miles and it took about five and a half hours to get there," he said. "Originally we went to San Antonio, but the downtown area of San Antonio floods very easily, so there were a lot of worried people from there who started to leave, so we also changed hotels and ended up in Dallas."
Flynn said the evacuation was as smooth and orderly as could be expected.
"The drive from Corpus Christi to San Antonio is usually about a two-hour drive, but when my assistant coach drove it took him five hours," he said, noting the roads were jammed with people heading inland. Even so, people were as composed as could be expected.
"Even with four lanes of traffic, there was no one being unruly or honking," said Flynn.
Having so many players to look after, Flynn and his staff really leaned on the team's billets for keeping his players safe. He couldn’t praise them enough.
"Rhonda Mills was the billet coordinator in Swan River and she did an excellent job, and it's the same down here," noted Flynn. "When our players came in, our billets evacuated them - some not even knowing them for more than 24 hours."
Tripp was one of those players Flynn made sure had a way out of Corpus Christi. The Valley native and former Stampeder said events evolved quickly after he arrived in Texas for what he thought was going to be the start of training camp.
"I got here on Wednesday (Aug. 23), and I had not even heard anything about the storm," said Tripp. "My billet told me about the hurricane, but at that time it was only a category one storm, so we were going to stay.
"But it just kept getting bigger and bigger, though even when it was a category three, we were still going to stay," continued Tripp. "But when it was bumped up to a category four, that's when we got a call that there was a mandatory evacuation order."
Tripp and two of his teammates stay in the same billet house, and one of those teammates hails from Dallas. They all drove there to escape the storm's wrath and wait for it to pass over the area.
As people fled Hurricane Harvey, and after they returned, they witnessed the power of a storm which had sustained winds of up to 209 km/h. Flynn says he also witnessed the best in humanity - the chaos of Hurricane Harvey was countered with the kindness of Texans.
"I am from the Maritimes and we have friendly people there, and one of my favourite things about coaching in Swan River was how tight knit and friendly the community was there," said Flynn. "And, Texans are cut from the same cloth. It's been neighbours helping neighbours; that's all it's really been.
"Since the storm, people have been pulling over and helping people out - just like they would in Swan River. It's been really cool, especially with everything that's been going on in the United States in the last six months, whether it's about the election or the riots. When stuff went wrong, everyone put everything aside, and it's been great to see everyone helping their fellow man."
The IceRays players were also prepared to step up and do their part.
"Everyone is willing to help out," said Tripp. "Right now, people are getting their homes and yards in order. I'm helping my billet move some trees and furniture, which we moved before the storm.
"Once we get everyone sorted out here, the team is going to go to Rockport and other places that were hit really bad and help with the clean-up," he added. "There are a lot of people from here who are going to help out."
And, places such as Rockport desperately need help. A mere 30 minutes from Tripp's billet's house, the Texas shoreline community was brutally battered by the storm.
"Where we live, the damage isn't too bad," said Tripp. "There is mostly tree damage, and some houses have a little bit of damage as well. We got lucky, as the (worst of the) storm just missed us.
"Rockport was completely flattened."
That said, the magnitude of the storm and the damage it caused was not something Tripp had ever expected to see. Hailing from the Valley, he'd seen flooding before, but nothing like this.
"I have seen some flooding in Swan, and I thought that was bad," he said. "This was crazy. We're right on the water, and there were some places where you couldn't tell where the ocean stops and where it was supposed to begin. (Water) was just everywhere."
His friends and family back home also reached out to him as soon as they realized his was potentially in the path of a monster storm.
"A lot of people reached out to me to see if I was OK and to find out what was going on," said Tripp. "People back home didn't really know what was happening until it actually hit, and by that time, I was in Dallas. But I let everyone know I was safe."
With the hurricane behind them, both Tripp and Flynn are now focused on the upcoming hockey season. It's almost surreal to be thinking about playing a game on frozen ice a week after one of the biggest hurricanes slammed into the American coastline, but both know that the puck drops on the regular season in just a few short weeks.
"There should be no damage that will hinder the season, but there is the typical sort of water damage you get with a serious storm," said Flynn. "But nothing that isn’t covered under insurance or that will prevent or hinder the development of the players this season."
"We're really excited about this year," added Flynn. "We were really close to making an appearance in the national championship last year, and we have a great core coming back. And Tripp is at the forefront of that."
"I was excited to come down and start, but we've been postponed," said Tripp. "But this is supposed to be a good year here - their 20th year. We were close last year, and people are expecting big things from us now."
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The news reports continue to come out of Texas of hardship and heartbreak, of people left with nothing and people who helped until they had nothing left to give.
Flynn says Texans are cut from the same cloth as people from the Valley and from the Maritimes. He could probably say the same for most of North. It's refreshing to know when things get this devastating; the natural instinct is to help your fellow man.
It's also interesting to see how something happening 3,000 kilometers away can have such personal connections to a place like the Valley. I am sure it was no different from when Calgary was flooded a couple of years ago, or ice storms in Quebec, or yes, even that epic flood in Winnipeg 20 years ago. The world isn't actually that big, and with advances in technology such as social media and the Internet, it's getting smaller all the time. So when something like a hurricane in Texas strikes, it does matter to people all around the world, including the Valley.
People in Texas are rebounding, but they still need help. If you want to aid in relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, please visit www.redcross.org.

Derek Holtom