Editor’s Note: Katy, Texas, was selected as one of the Reader’s Digest’s Nicest Places in America. Meet the winner, find out how the finalists were selected, and hear from our chief judge, Robin Roberts.
In August 2017, Southeast Texas was underwater. Hurricane Harvey dumped five feet of rain in some areas, and nearly six feet of storm surge made sure that the water had nowhere to go but into the houses, businesses, and lives of thousands of residents. More than 100 people died and $125 billion in damage was recorded before the waters receded weeks later.
About 30 miles due west of Houston, Katy, Texas, a former farm town of 18,000 residents, took a hard hit. Nearly 700 of its homes and 80 businesses were damaged or destroyed. But locals didn’t wait for the rain to stop before opening their doors, refrigerators, and wallets to first responders, neighbors, strangers, and even pets.
Beaver Aplin, owner of the popular Buc-ee’s chain of convenience stores, was preparing for the grand opening of his newest location just outside Katy. The 50,000-square-foot store was fully stocked with everything from food, water, and toiletries to batteries and Band-Aids. When the storm hit, Aplin opened the store early without thinking twice. He put the word out to first responders, telling them to take what they needed, free of charge.
Meanwhile, locals ran, drove, and paddled to rescue their stranded neighbors. When the water was too deep, salvation came by boat. Pat Lester drove his airboat into town from his home on the outskirts. He had seven life jackets, so he scooped up seven people at a time, starting with pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone who was ill. A nearby Bass Pro Shops donated all 80 boats it had in stock—and then headquarters sent dozens more. “We never even got a bill,” says city administrator Byron Hebert.
Other residents found creative ways to pitch in. Shakeib Mashhood used WhatsApp to raise an army of more than 100 volunteers who passed out food and water and cleaned up storm-damaged homes. Animal control officer David Brown tied a lifeline from his truck to the city’s animal shelter, which was surrounded by water, to help ferry people back and forth through high water so they could rescue the few animals that remained in the shelter after an earlier evacuation.
These are just a small fraction of the stories of heroism that came out of Katy and all over Texas during one of the worst natural disasters the country has ever seen. But Brown, like many other of his fellow Texan heroes, insists he didn’t do anything special. “We do what we need to do—we do this all day long,” he told Reader’s Digest.
Mayor Chuck Brawner agrees: “I think we just did what Katy has always done. We all just got together and helped each other out. Katy has always been populated by people who care about one another.”
Even first responders coming from outside Katy could instantly feel the town’s selfless spirit. “We helped people in lots of other areas too, but Katy was amazing. Neighbors were going from house to house checking on people and helping everyone they could,” David Scherff told Katy Magazine.
“I was so impressed I even had thoughts of moving there. I have never seen anything like Katy.”