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Otterbein alum Don Paullo ’90 helped with boat rescues in Houston after Hurricane Harvey

Otterbein alum Don Paullo ’90 helped with boat rescues in Houston after Hurricane Harvey

As Hurricane Harvey gained strength and headed for the Texas coast on Friday, Aug. 25, one Otterbein graduate was not only thinking about his family, but the needs of others in his community.

Don Paullo ’90 lives in Houston, Texas, in the Nottingham Forest neighborhood located in the western part of the city. As the hurricane approached, residents in the neighborhood, some living there for nearly 40 years, witnessed unprecedented flooding.

“There was no way for us to drive out at that point Friday and Saturday as the water was way too high to risk it,” said Paullo. “We could have walked out but we had great neighbors and friends in the area so we just banded together and did what we could at the moment.”

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Houston on Saturday, Aug. 26, and stalled above the city, pouring more and more rain on the already soaked ground and overflowing rivers, lakes and drainage systems. Suburban and city dwellers alike began to see the waters rise near their homes as Buffalo Bayou, the main river and watershed for the area, started to extend past its banks and into the surrounding neighborhoods. It was then that Paullo first took action for his community.

“The president of our home owners association told me about a large dog who was stranded in a home three blocks away. For a few years I had a canoe on the side of our house that didn’t get much use but now was the time to press it into service. We paddled down the street, kicked-in the door and found the dog standing on the countertops. We got him out and back to higher ground,” said Paullo.

After the dog rescue on Sunday, it became apparent that first responders and the Coast Guard were focusing on downtown Houston as it had the most residents and was hit the hardest. This prompted Paullo, and approximately 15 other Nottingham Forest dads, to organize themselves to rescue stranded people with their personal boats. On Monday, Aug. 28, an ad hoc flotilla of fishing boats, canoes, kayaks and other watercraft began being dispatched by a neighbor, a former Navy Intelligence officer, for rescue needs reported to their neighborhood Facebook page or via text messages.

“We spent about 10 to 11 hours on the water each day. Sometimes it would be just me in the boat and other times I would have two or three additional people helping. We got more organized each day we went out,” Paullo said. “We started to collect food from the homes before it would go bad and we would make community meals of chili or have a cookout to feed all the rescuers and those rescued. It was always a community effort.”

On Tuesday, Aug. 29, the water continued to rise and the dam levees were released. Rescue efforts by the Nottingham Forest community continued, even as their own homes were flooded by the new surge in water. It was at this time, however, that the Coast Guard airboats started to appear in the surrounding communities. It was then that Paullo and many of the other boatmen began to turn their attention to their own family needs, but only after they had helped so many people in a time when there was no one else available to make a difference.

Otterbein University prides itself in teaching the importance of community and making a difference in the world. Paullo exemplifies those values and cannot stress enough how this was more than one guy picking up people in a canoe. The Otterbein Kingsman is always the first to point out how everyone in his neighborhood banded together during this tragic moment and was able to do a lot of good.

“I’ve heard ‘hero’ used a lot but there were so many people like me out there making a difference. I just happened to be one of the first guys with a boat.”

Otterbein and other Ohio students who attend Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio schools are asked to determine the value of something that is important in their day-to-day campus living and then consider making an online cash donation to help Texas students replace similar items they lost in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Donations will be distributed from the GoFundMe via the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas Foundation. The goal is to raise $5,000 from Ohio students to help Texas students in need. Please join us in championing a lesson that challenges and inspires all Ohio students to experience for themselves that their kindness matters. Please donate today!