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Blountstown police chief & investigator help out in Houston for five days following Hurricane Harvey

by Teresa Eubanks, Journal Editor

Before the Florida panhandle was flooded with traffic from Hurricane Irma evacuees, a couple of lawmen from Blountstown traveled to Houston to help out as residents there dealt with rising water, power outages and caring for loved ones after Hurricane Harvey barreled into Texas on Aug. 25.

By Thursday, Aug. 31, the storm had moved on but left a path of devastation. At 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 1, Blountstown Police Chief Mark Mallory and his investigator, Capt. Adam Terry, left for Houston.

The pair took a one week contract job to help keep the peace as flood victims struggled to locate family, gather supplies and find somewhere safe to lay their head each night. They were assigned to work security at Wal-Mart stores.  “Our job was to stop looting and keep people organized.  We had to allow just a few people at a time to go in the stores to shop,” the chief explained.  “We were dealing with some upset people waiting for supplies they desperately needed.”

The pair worked 12-hour shifts when assigned together; other times, they did separate six-hour shifts with other officers. “They moved us around all over Houston,” he said.

Hotel rooms were impossible to find.  “Some of the other teams who came to help out were literally sleeping in the trucks or in the back of the store,” he said.   But the two from Blountstown lucked out. The store manager at the first Wal-Mart they were assigned to had booked rooms in anticipation of having to move his family.

When the flood waters failed to make it into his home, he gave the room to Mallory and Terry for a couple of days.

They managed to keep the room - at their own expense - for a couple more nights.  After that, they just caught a nap when they could.  “We didn’t have it as rough as the other teams did,” Mallory said.  Their routine became nap, shower, eat and go right back out, he explained.

He added that one of the Florida guys that went couldn’t find a spot to stay but needed some rest after doing his shift at a store.  “The only place they had to put him was in the automotive section,” Mallory said.  “He was sleeping there but sometimes had to wake up so that someone could get around him.”

He said the company that hired the security moved them all around Houston.  “We really never knew where we were going to be,” he said.  “We were more on the east side of Houston; the west side was still all flooded when we were there.”  That didn’t make their job any easier, because  “all the people from the west side were trying to get to retail locations on the east side.”

How would he describe it?  He compared it to the annual madness of Black Friday at the end of November, where shoppers converge en mass on stores for limited low-price specials.  “Except it was like that every day,” he said.  They stayed busy helping people load heavy generators and assisting elderly customers move box after box of water into their cars.

Theft was rampant.  “So many people would go around the store with their shopping cart, fill it up and wait for someone’s head to turn.  Then they’d walk out with the cart.” The most popular item to steal?  Flat screen TVs. “We caught four people trying to leave with TVs,” he said.  “The place was so overwhelmed and there was so many people shopping.”

The heat forced them to allow more shoppers to come in.   “For a while, they were only letting in 20 or 30 at a time but the lines got so long and people were left waiting out in the sun,” he said.  “Then they started letting more and more in at a time.”

Along with watching for shoplifters and maintaining crowd control, the pair escorted store employees as they moved “tremendous amounts of cash” between stores as needed.

The men took a personal vehicle (packed with their own supplies of food and water) and were advised not to leave anything in their truck.

They were warned to park near the store doors.  They weren’t always in the best areas of town but “ninety-eight percent of the people we met were just amazing,” he said.

By policing the crowded stores, contract security teams freed up the local police so they could respond to emergencies and make rescues.

He said people noticed their ID indicating they were from Florida and seemed to appreciate them coming to help.  “So many people were completely nice…hugging us and thanking us for being there,” he said, and added, “I didn’t expect that much gratitude for the police.”

They were asked to stay on a few more days but had to decline. “At that time, I was looking at this approaching hurricane that appeared to be heading for Florida.  We wanted to get back and get prepared,” he said.

“We didn’t get much sleep…but it was a really good experience,” he said. “Going out there and being involved in that only helps us prepare and anticipate the problems we might have here.”

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September 22nd, 2017


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