Six feet of water in places that had never seen more than two inches.
The Joplin tornado strike written on a canvas 10 times larger.
Those were some of the thoughts that passed through Centralia resident Danny Mueller’s head as he and the rest of his Missouri Task Force 1 teammates landed in Texas August 24.
They were there to help the beleaguered residents of the San Antonio and Houston survive the wrath of Hurricane Harvey.
For 13 days Mueller spent his sun up to sundown in a dry suit, a version of SCUBA suit, helping rescue people trapped in their homes by the horrendous rains that accompanied the hurricane.
He spent most it enduring rain unlike many in Houston, as well as back home, had experienced.
“Here we’ve had really hard rains, but they would last a few minutes, maybe even almost an hour, then slow down,” he said. “Down there it rained so hard you couldn’t see for days.”
Mueller is a captain with the Boone County Fire Protection District.
A 2003 graduate of Clopton High School, Mueller’s Centralia connection came about when he married Centralia resident Megan Wheeling in 2013.
“Not a chance,” he said when asked if, in 2003, he foresaw spending almost two weeks in Texas, using what some might describe as a heavy-duty john boat to rescue people from their houses.
“My goal was to be a history teacher,” he said. “I had actually taken most of the classes when I met another Centralia person, Tyler Beauchamp
Though they were in the dry suits, he said it was not as uncomfortable “We expected Texas heat, but it stayed between 70 and 80, it was not super-hot
They never stopped for lunch. “When you’re doing that type of thing you don’t really think about food. You just keep working. You’re not thinking about yourself. The thing you are thinking about is getting the people safe and getting them to the collection point. We were just too focused on rescue operations,” he said. Dinners though, he said, saw them well-taken care of. “Some days we had MREs, but a log of good Samaritan groups cooked dinner for us.”
They slept in a high school gym, in sleeping bags atop inflatable mattresses.
Mueller described the water-driven devastation with an analogy to home. “It was like downtown Centralia overlaid by the main channel of the Lake of the Ozarks and filled with boats.”
“Every place we were, there were local people with their own boats, getting people out,” Mueller said. “They weren’t there working for anybody but their fellow man. The response was amazing.”
Mueller said he would have stayed longer if needed, but another task force squad was ready to take his group’s place after 13 days. They typically deploy for 14 days. “We could have stayed longer if needed,” he said, “but the event was on the decline.”
“Everywhere we went people were grateful to see us. At one semi-affluent neighborhood, we were going door to door to give the local fire department eyes-on to make sure everything was all right,” Mueller said. “We went to every door asking if they needed help, and they, every time asked us what they could do for us, if we needed bottle water or a sandwich. We were there to help them, but they were always offering to help us. In the midst of all that disaster, people truly came together. It was great to see.”
And that, Mueller said, was the most important, most long-lasting thing he would take away from the experience. “When you have a disaster like that, the best medicine is when communities come together.”