Team at New Caney Flying J worked overnight to help hundreds of stranded drivers

By Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

NEW CANEY, Texas - In an area like New Caney, residents know if anything happens, they can generally depend on each other for help.

That is exactly what happened at the Flying J near State Highway 242 and U.S. 59 Thursday after Tropical Storm Imelda impacted Southeast Texas.

"Every time we have an incident like this ... the whole community comes together"

As floodwaters reached high levels, impacting roadways like 242 and inundating fields and roads, the storm made travel virtually impossible in many areas.

"Every time we have an incident like this occurs, the whole community comes together," said Stephanie Alexander, a worker at Flying J, a rest stop and convenience store and gas station near 242 and 59.

When devastation tears through places one might find familiar, one might begin to notice the familiar faces who have been there for others day in and day out.

"We were just stuck," Michele McIntosh, a New Caney resident who was stranded in the flood, said.

Little did she know the employees who have helped her every day would make such an impression on her and her three teenage boys Thursday.

'They stood by every single one of us'

After dealing with flooding, McIntosh took her family and left their home to find other families in Splendora. Unfortunately, the roads were so flooded, the farthest they got was the Flying J.

"We could go no farther. We couldn't make it to friends and family. We couldn't make it home. We were just stuck. We were stuck here at the Flying J for approximately 11 hours," McIntosh said.

Luckily for McIntosh, Flying J kept its doors open, despite many areas, including a business located in the same building, closing up shop.

"We always try to help out whenever we can. We try not to ever close," Cristopher Weidig, Flying J deli lead, said.

Weidig and a team of about seven employees worked multiple shifts just to make hundreds of stranded drivers feel at home.

"We all worked very hard. The people that were here, we all worked over 15 plus hours throughout the entire day with almost no breaks," Weidig said.

It was during the next couple of days that everyone was able to come in and help.

"Over and over we heard the same thing: 'Thank you so much,'" said Alexander, who went to work Friday.

Employees worked hard to serve hot coffee and pizza to those who were hungry.

'It was beyond comforting'

The impact that these employees had on this community made McIntosh emotional.

"It was beyond comforting. It was a hot meal for my kids. It was a hot meal for hundreds ... I mean, you .. Looking at the parking lot, now you don't see it, but there was just hundreds of people stranded here," McIntosh said.

With how conditions were Thursday, McIntosh said it would have been easy for Flying J to shut their doors. However, the little stop in New Caney stayed open despite half of the staff, Thursday, being stuck at home Thursday. One employee, named Cathy, slept in a nearby chapel, and worked multiple shifts throughout the next day. Other employees who were stranded at home sent support via text.

"We had two co-workers that had their houses flood. So it's not foreign to us. We live here. We work here. We know the people who come into this store," Sarah Simons, another Flying J employee, said.

'It means so much to people'

Regulars like Teresa Whitaker only had great things to say about all of the employees at the stop she frequents multiple times a day.

"People who couldn't get out ... and couldn't get in had a place to go. It meant so much to people," Whitaker said. "All of these people are such a blessing."

McIntosh was determined to let the Flying J team know just how big of an impact they had made.

"In times like this, people tend to forget about the ... I say little guys, but they weren't little that day. They were huge," McIntosh said. "Thank you. That's not even good enough, but thank you for being here for the community."

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