Rescuer recounts saving man that was washed away

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As the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In this case, it was a neighbor helping a complete stranger.

As emergency crews were stretched thin rescuing those affected by the massive flooding throughout Webster Parish Wednesday, one couple rescued and took in a man nearly swept away by floodwaters.

 William Howey was on his way home to Texas from Florida in this car he'd just purchased for his wife. Howey was diverted from Interstate 20 as it was closed due to flooding. Gene and Becky Smith say Howey told them he'd had the car less than 24 hours. Courtesy Photo

William Howey was on his way home to Texas from Florida in this car he’d just purchased for his wife. Howey was diverted from Interstate 20 as it was closed due to flooding. Gene and Becky Smith say Howey told them he’d had the car less than 24 hours. Courtesy Photo
Gene and Becky Smith live in Ada Taylor off Highway 80, not far from where 78-year-old William Howey, of Little Elm, Texas, clung to a tree for nearly two hours as waters continued to rapidly rise. Gene Smith says his neighbor, Harriet Johnson, went to take some pictures of the high water to send to her job to let them know she couldn’t get to work. As she was taking the photos, she heard someone calling for help, saw a car nearly submerged and a man in a tree.

“Where we were, the fire department couldn’t get through from either side,” he said. “She’d called 911 and they told her it would be about 15 minutes and no one had shown up. She got scared and called me.”

He got his small aluminum boat with a troll motor and launched into the water to get him, he said.

“We put a life jacket on him while he was still in the bushes and got him in the boat,” he said. “He’d been there for about an hour and a half, from what we figure. He was shivering and probably close to hypothermia.”
Becky Smith said they took him in because no one could really get in or out.

“It was still raining and it was just getting worse and worse,” she said. “It wasn’t getting any better.”

The Smiths got him into a warm bath and got some warm food prepared for him. Johnson, who is a nurse, stayed and took his vitals and kept an eye on him for a while, Becky Smith said.

The Smiths say Howey was traveling from Florida where he’d picked up a car he bought for his wife and was headed home when he was diverted off of Interstate 20.

“This was kind of a God thing, because when she called it was about 5 o’clock,” he said. “In another hour it would have been dark and there’s no telling what would have happened then.”

Becky Smith says she feels multiple miracles took place throughout that 24-hour period. Johnson was in the right place at the right time, and she says, Howey told them he’d just had heart surgery in January. As part of his recovery, he’d been exercising, she says, and without that, he may not have endured in the elements as long as he did.

“Even in the middle of this ordeal, he had a good sense of humor,” Becky Smith said. “His main concern was his wife because she was expecting him home Wednesday. So he called the Grand Prairie police to do a welfare check on her.”

Another miracle, the Smiths believe, is Howey’s son came to pick him up Thursday, but the two had been estranged for five years. Becky Smith says this whole thing is a testament to God.

“This whole scenario is a testament to an on-time God,” she said. “He didn’t just provide the people, He provided the timing.”

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