As a part of a career that has taken him across the country before landing him at Texas A&M University-Central Texas, Russ Porter, vice president of research and economic development at the university in Killeen, has borne witness to Mother Nature’s wrath on more than one occasion.
“I’ve seen tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes,” he said. “But I’ve never seen anything as bad as Hurricane Harvey.”
Making the five-hour trip with his son, Brett, a senior at Texas A&M-Central Texas, Porter saw the first signs of destruction as they neared Victoria: utility poles wobbled precariously, reinforced temporarily by energy company truck cranes, metal remnants of a gas station, and a bright orange ocean buoy standing solemnly against the fencing of a pasture adjacent to the highway.
“It’s the kind of thing a person never forgets,” he said soberly. “Devastation had definitely happened there.”
Porter made his way to Rockport in his son’s pickup, accompanied by Texas A&M-Central Texas social work coordinator, Tammy Molina-Moore, in a second vehicle — a donated rental pickup truck from Toyota of Killeen — both vehicles filled to capacity with water, diapers, toiletries and other items.
Before he left, Porter had reached out to a colleague with the Texas A&M University System, James Abbey, director of Global and Corporate Partnerships, with an idea.
After some effort, they were able to get a 50-watt generator from the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. In no time, it was inspected for safety and readied for delivery. Abbey would take it there himself.
Abbey pulled into the parking lot of the Rockport Volunteer Fire Department’s West Station just before midnight. He was greeted by Tony Coonrod, owner of CEC Electrical Company, and Wes Atwood, ECE’s business development manager. Both had come from Sinton to lend a hand. The three of them went right to work.
After restoring the power to the site, Abbey spent the night in the same Suburban he’d arrived in less the two hours earlier, stationing himself in the parking lot at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, exhausted but optimistic.
“We had gotten the generator to Wes,” he said, “but that was just the beginning. The next day, everywhere we looked, we saw people in need. And those people were surrounded by people with connections to the A&M System.”
As he reflected on the experience, Abbey acknowledged the support he witnessed from the Texas A&M System universities and agencies.
“What I saw — I think what we all saw — was a testament to the spirit of Texans and the selfless service that is a part of our legacy,” Abbey said. “We came together with one goal: to deliver much-needed resources to Rockport to speed their recovery and restore their community.”