Jim Williamson
Jim Williamson

Hurricane Harvey brought out the best in many people.  It inspired countless people to to rescue strangers with their boats, open their homes to evacuees, organize supply drives, and even inspired the development of our app karmist to crowdsource help.  However, there is another story of heroism during the 2017 hurricanes which has largely been untold.  It involves a man, his private jet, and an exceptional display of courage and generosity.

Jim Williamson is an entrepreneur who owns an energy trading company based in Austin, TX.  In September 2017, he was in Denver and watched helplessly as Hurricane Harvey made a direct hit on Rockport where his parents, aunt, and uncle lived.  Unable to concentrate on anything else, Jim decided he needed to fly down to Rockport and do something, anything. As Harvey parked itself over Houston, conditions cleared up just enough for planes to land in the Rockport area.

Loading up on supplies at True Value
Loading up on supplies at True Value

Before leaving Denver, Jim went down to the local True Value and out of his own pocket bought as many generators, chainsaws, flashlights, batteries, and other supplies as he could fit in his plane. His plan to fly to Rockport ran into some obstacles however.

“I wanted to land in Rockport but I couldn’t confirm with the airport that the runway was clear.  Corpus I knew was open, although they kept losing power intermittently.”

In spite of the uncertainty and dangers, Jim headed straight for Corpus Christi.  After landing at the airport and loading up the rental car, Jim drove down to Rockport to find his family.  There were no lights, no cell phone service, and the driving was done in pitch black darkness, Jim described the experience as surreal.  When he arrived at 12:30 in the morning, his cousin, a marine,  mistook him for a looter.  Thankfully he quickly realized it was Jim.

Going door-to-door in Rockport
Going door-to-door in Rockport

Over the next several days, Jim, his wife Ashley, and his family went around Rockport going house to house checking up on locals, handing out generators, providing them with supplies, and helping out however they could. 

He would also fly back and forth between Rockport and Austin/Georgetown to evacuate people and ferry supplies.

 

Loading supplies into the jet at Georgetown Airport
Loading supplies into the jet at Georgetown Airport

“Georgetown airport had an amazing setup. They organized a supply drive with Boy Scouts and volunteers everywhere. They had all the supplies weighed and ready to go on pallets.  It was great to see these smaller airplanes pitch in because it’s harder for these bigger planes which only go into the large airports, but you got all these smaller airports closer to the areas hit up and down the coast.”

Jim also took a detour to Del Rio to pick up his cousin to help in the efforts. On his trip from Del Rio to Rockport, Jim’s cargo this time consisted of 30 pizzas which he gave to the utility crews who he said were the real heroes.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.  They had hundreds of trucks lined up and ready to go and they were just flying, working their ass off to put up utility poles one after the other. Just about every single pole got snapped in the storm but they did an amazing job getting power back up in less than 2 weeks”

As the rescue and recovery progressed, the supplies needed changed.  Some areas asked people to stop bringing water as they had too much, but diapers were in desperate need.  Also strangely enough, hummingbird feeders were being requested.

“Funny thing about hurricanes, they also blow away all the flora so in the aftermath, hummingbirds are starving.  We added hummingbird feeders to the supply list and hummingbirds were swarming all over the place”

Rescued family in Louisiana
Rescued family in Louisiana

As Harvey moved East, so did Jim.  When he heard about a family from Beaumont who lost everything, he flew down to Louisiana to evacuate them to College Station.

“It was sad, they lost everything. They got out with just a duffle bag and their dog.”

After several days of ferrying people and supplies between Louisiana, Austin, Georgetown, Houston, and Beaumont, Jim was back in Austin when he got a call from a friend in Puerto Rico who was trying to get out before Hurricane Irma hit.

“He was worried, he wasn’t able to find a way to get off the island with his kids and family.  I tried to find him a charter flight but wasn’t able to find one so I was like “Hey, the clock is ticking so I’ll just head down there now and nip it in the bud”.  I probably should have looked on Google Maps before I landed there though because the executive airport in San Juan is right up against the water [laughs].  It was dicey, we barely got out in time and those outer bands were right up on us.”

Flying into Hurricane Irma
Flying into Hurricane Irma

After taking his friends from Puerto Rico to South Carolina, Jim finally made it back to Denver to see his kids. When he got there, he was exhausted and looking forward to a relaxing weekend when he got another call from his friend in Florida.  His friend was planning to drive his family to safety but Jim felt uneasy with their plan and shortly thereafter was back in his plane flying to Naples to evacuate another family.

“We couldn’t get fuel in Naples and we only had enough fuel on the way back to get to New Orleans so we stopped there.  We eventually made it to San Antonio where we waited out the storm.  At least we got a trip to New Orleans out of it!”

In all, Jim flew over 30 flights to help others at the risk of his own safety and at significant financial cost.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer”.  In Jim’s case, he was brave about 3 weeks longer.

About karmist:  After watching people risk everything to help others after Hurricane Harvey and knowing true heroes such as Jim Williamson, we believe everyone has an inner hero.  You don’t need a boat or a plane to help others though, you just need to be willing and able to reach out.  karmist was developed to provide the “able” part by connecting people who need help with people who want to help.  If you are either, please join our community today.

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