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Monster truck used for rescues

Profile image for Karen Warren
Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON (AP) -- He jumped down from the cab of the monster truck with a pencil behind his ear, looking a little like a vintage Nicolas Cage -- thin and lanky.

Chris Ginter, a 34-year-old commercial real estate developer, became almost mythical in the days after Hurricane Harvey dumped heavy rains on the Houston area, plucking people from their flooded homes and streets and zipping them out in his brother's giant silver truck with 55-inch tires.

The Houston Chronicle reports after the storm's worst, he continued providing rides for those in the city's Memorial area who seemed to be forgotten -- their homes still flooded, yet with nary a cloud in the sky.

Ginter is among hundreds of citizen volunteers who have hit the flooded streets to try to rescue or assist people, often in boats, canoes and kayaks but sometimes in modified pickup trucks like his.

After the storm hit, Ginter had one mission: to save his best friend, Robert Maguire, and his girlfriend, Gina Dyrda. That mission led to many more water rescues in West Houston, due to the release of water from nearby dams. Homes that had never flooded were suddenly underwater, leaving many to feel like their homes had been sacrificed for the greater good.

"We tried to get everyone out of that area that wanted to leave," the Houston volunteer rescuer said. "There were some two-story townhomes, so not everyone wanted to leave, of course. But the next day, more people wanted to leave, and two days later, we couldn't even get back there and people wanted to leave."

During the initial flooding phase, affected people would pass around Ginter's phone number, leading to a steady stream of addresses for stranded people who had thought they would ride out the storm. They called in hopes that his amazing rescue truck could whisk them back to dry land. In the post-flood days, his phone number again got passed around, this time from folks who wanted to see their homes and get a handle on the watery nightmare left behind.

He has remained undeterred in his mission to help.

On Saturday, as the water started creeping out of the Marywood Chase and Memorial Thicket subdivisions, Ginter aimed to help people get back into their homes, which for the most part remained inaccessible except by boat or kayak.

Residents wanted to assess the damage and bring in supplies, such as generators, fans and garbage bags.

Ginter met up with Gordon Miller and his family. Using a stepladder, they loaded cleaning supplies onto the bed of the truck. They were joined by some neighbors, who hopped on with waders and a rubber raft for the return trip. As Ginter inched the truck through the toxic floodwaters, he on occasion opened the door of his cab to check to see how high the water was hitting. If it went over the running boards, he would be too deep.

A neighbor in waders warned him of debris in the street ahead. A few moments later, he slid out of the driver's seat and into the murky water, to use himself as a human measuring stick. The water was midway up to his chest, but he declared that he had enough clearance, trying to stay in the middle of the street to avoid hitting mailboxes and fire hydrants.

"I never make a wake, but if the water gets deep, I have to part the water a little bit, to get us back to safety," he said.

Ginter helped to unload supplies at each of the homes. When one of the men tried to put money in his pocket, he declined.

Just there to help, he said.

Asked about being a volunteer, he replied, "My job is easy compared to that. That's probably one of the toughest jobs, being a volunteer walking through the water, pulling people in and out, in a kayak or a boat. Those are the true heroes."

FEATURED PHOTO: Chris Ginter gets a hug from Nancy Nejad, after Ginter helped her and her husband, Sonny, get them back to dry land from their home on Saturday in Houston. (Karen  Warren/AP)