Worried about her son in Rockport, Texas, when Hurricane Harvey hit, Nancy Dearing called everyone from the Red Cross to the police to check on him.
She was unable to receive any information about Zachary, a Lexington native who moved to Rockport a few months ago. When cellphone towers eventually went down in the hurricane-ravaged area, she Googled his name.
Nancy Dearing, who lives in Lexington, found several stories about Zachary, 29, who has been called an unlikely hero of the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
“I’m happy about what he’s doing, but I’m most happy and grateful that he is alive and well. That’s first in my mind,” Dearing said. “I had prayers coming from everyone.”
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When no one else did, Zachary Dearing took over a storm shelter at Live Oak Learning Center in Rockport. He took care of medically fragile displaced residents and others in need of basic essentials.
“That guy is a hometown hero — he pulled it off,” Carlos Alarcon, a Texas medical task force worker, told Reuters. “That’s my definition of a hero: when someone does something out of the ordinary to help other people.”
Rockport, a beach community near Corpus Christi, took the hardest initial beating from Hurricane Harvey, as 130 mph winds destroyed countless homes, according to the Dallas Morning News. It will be several weeks until residents regain running water and electricity, the newspaper reported.
Zachary Dearing moved to Rockport to assist in the care of his father, a cancer survivor. A chain of events led to him helping hundreds more.
In the final hours before the storm Friday, he tied up his houseboat where he and his father live. His father then left for safety in Houston. The younger Dearing stayed in Rockport with an elderly man, JJ, but when the storm hit the area, they were in danger in the house.
“The house was in trouble, and we rushed to Live Oak, where they told us the shelter was,” said Dearing, who works in Aransas County in the Navigation District. “We barely made it to shelter.”
There were nearly 100 people at the elementary school when he arrived, he said, but no one seemed to be in charge. The school had no supplies and no power, so Zachary gathered a group of eight people ranging in age from 16 to 21.
He and his new team helped gather food and water, and helped plug leaks in the roof. Despite having no medical experience, he provided medical care for people. He also organized trips outside to rescue stranded people. The shelter housed hundreds of people.
“The next 30 hours, we did our best to take care of everyone,” he said. “I had a great group of people who did not stop.”
Dearing told Reuters he was a “one-man army, running a triage hospital with nothing.”
When a lieutenant from the Texas Department of Safety showed up Saturday to see what the de facto leader of the shelter needed, Dearing gave him a long list of supplies they needed at the school.
“And if you can’t get us a generator today or tomorrow, I need buses,” he told the officer. “Four hours later, he shows up with buses, and we were able to evacuate the shelter. I was so thankful no one was hurt in our shelter. Our prayers were answered.”
The storm in Rockport died down, but the buses were routed to a safer shelter in Austin.
Dearing stayed back and returned to work Monday to help restore the harbor. Somehow, his houseboat survived the hurricane with only minimal damage, but most of the rest of the town didn’t make out as well.
“The best way to say it is that the town is really, really, really going to need a lot of things,” he said. “Rockport is immobile and will be for some time. But there is a heavy National Guard response, and FEMA and border control.”
It’s no surprise to Nancy Dearing that her son was instrumental in the relief effort. While growing up in Lexington, he was active helping others with his theater group.
“That’s just his nature. He’s kind and good and thoughtful of others,” she said. Zachary, a Tates Creek High School graduate and a screenwriter.
Nancy Dearing was less worried Monday.
“I’m just so proud of him. I’m glad he’s safe and able to help other people,” she said.