Generosity of people in Conroe area helps keep hospital in Beaumont open

A man who is a doctor and pilot came to the rescue by supplying clean water to a Beaumont hospital during Hurricane Harvey.
A man who is a doctor and pilot came to the rescue by supplying clean water to a Beaumont hospital during Hurricane Harvey.

HOUSTON – When Hurricane Harvey hit, Beaumont became an island. There was too much water, yet not enough.

"As soon as I got there, I was told that we were close to shutting down because we didn't have any water,” said Dr. Kevin Schwechten, who is a pilot and a physician.

Schwechten said he knew his hospital in Beaumont needed help and found clean water provided by angels from the air.

"It was incredible. It was both the community but also an enormous governmental response. Our need was absolutely immediate and we had a great response," he said.

Organizational help came from Conroe and from retired airline pilot Mike Barksdale. He coordinated the movement of 300 tons of water and hundreds of tons of relief supplies.

"Through Facebook, through social media, we put out to the community that we needed help loading water into military helicopters here, and had a tremendous response," Barksdale said.

Barksdale and his son enlisted the help of the U.S. Army Reserve unit at the airport and Capt. Chris Fishell.

Fishell carried supplies loaded into a Black Hawk helicopter.

"I have never in my 13 years in the military seen a community come together in the capacity that they did. Bottom line: Without the support of the great people of this state, we would not have been able to make that mission successful," Fishell said.

Civilians heard the call and responded. Many bought water and drove to Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport and went to work loading water into military aircraft. Their names and ranks did not matter. They all had a job to do and they did it, volunteering their time.

The Commemorative Air Force flew its C-47 Bluebonnet Belle to Conroe to be loaded with supplies. The aircraft distributed relief in Europe during World War II, and it did the same during Hurricane Harvey.

"It made all of us feel good -- the pilots, down to the ground crew and the mechanics, everybody that was involved in that aircraft. It kinda lifted them up," said Colonel Chris Dowell, of the Commemorative Air Force.

Through their efforts, a hospital in Beaumont stayed open.

"We were able to keep the doors of that hospital open because of the effort that was coordinated between both the civilians and the army," Schwechten said.

And, as it turned out, the Bluebonnet Belle served her last great mission. Just last month, the aircraft had an accident and caught fire as it took off from Burnett on its way to an air show.

"It was the latest, greatest mission that the aircraft flew," Dowell said.

But the goodness delivered by that aircraft, and many others, in the days following Harvey, lives on in the lives saved and the lives touched by the kindness of these heroes of Harvey in Conroe.