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Caveman in the Flood

September 5, 2017

 

On Sunday, September 3, 2017, a day before Labor Day, Bruce Margolis posted these words on his Facebook page: “Always Help Someone. You Might Be the Only One Who Does.”

 

After a week and a half of the most intense flooding in the history of the United States, the most positive messages of Hurricane Harvey and its devastating  floods in South Texas were the incredible responses from so many in Texas and around the world. They came to save, to help, to inspire.

 

Harvey dumped a record 50 inches of rain over parts of Houston and its suburbs, putting much of the 4th largest metro area in the country under water but leaving telecommunications networks mostly intact. That had allowed rescuers to use cell phones, smartphone apps and social media to figure out where to go – either at the direction of professional responders or on their own.

 

Bruce Margolis, a retired Harris County emergency-services commissioner, known as Caveman (his name when he was on radio and as a stand-up comedian), put out an appeal on his Facebook page on Monday, August 28th, for boat owners to join his rescue effort and posted his cell phone number so flood victims could request help.

 

By Wednesday, August 30th, his “Caveman Rescue Team” had grown from 3 to 14 and then by Friday, September 1st, to about 30. They were camping out on his property and conducting rescue missions in Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur. He and his wife had also raised more than $5,000 through a GoFundMe page to cover fuel and other expenses.

 

Standing waist deep in flood waters all across the Houston area, Margolis fielded a steady stream of phone calls as he helped residents clamber into and out of boats and eventually onto dry land and into shelters. He had taken hundreds and hundreds of calls from distressed homeowners and others stuck in their living spaces that had become parasitic swamps of water.

 

TRAGEDY AND DISEASE NOT ENOUGH TO STOP RESCUES

 

Like so many millions of Americans and people all over the world, I watched videos and images on CNN and every other network from the first day Harvey struck Port Arthur and the South Texas coast until the flood waters rose and rose through 500 miles of Texas, literally burying much of the Harris County Houston area with more water than we had witnessed since Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans 12 years earlier. What made this different for me were the postings of my sister’s high school classmate, Bruce Margolis, as he put out the call to his Facebook friends and then posted his words and images of what he witnessed over the next week.

 

Up until the devastating Hurricane Harvey and its flood aftermath in Southern Texas, Bruce was simply a neighbor of one of my best friends in high school who moved to Texas, a Facebook friend of mine, and a classmate and graduate (class of ’77) of my sister’s at Clarenceville High School in Livonia, Michigan. He was also one of the more political people on Facebook, a vehement critic of Donald Trump, a businessman who had a cigar business, and quite simply, in my mind, a Texas liberal. He and I would share our dismay at what was being said, tweet by tweet, from our president as well as the actions of his administration.

 

Bruce and my sister and I also shared a tragic past, his clouded by the shocking death of his mom and serious injury of his dad in a car accident in 2005, ours by our brother, Kenny, (also a friend of Bruce’s brother Jeremy) who was killed in a car accident in 1982. Bruce wrote at the beginning of 2016: “Almost 11 years ago to the minute, I received a telephone call from Sgt. Garofalo of the Bloomfield Township, Michigan, Police Department informing me that my parents, Bernard and Marlene, had been involved in a fatal car accident.

 

“From that moment on, my life, the lives of my siblings, our children, my aunts, uncles, and their children, my parents’ extended family, their friends and mine, and their co-workers changed forever.

 

“While time eases the pain, it never goes away. Fortunately, and more importantly the life lessons, memories, laughs, and smiles they shared with those of us who knew and loved them, are etched in our hearts and minds forever.

 

“The positive lessons they taught me, stay with me daily. The good things I do are because of lessons they taught me and promises I made to them to make the world a better place.”

 

Bruce has been making the “world a better place” for a long time. He told me other than being a defense contractor in his 30s, he was a part time fire fighter and paramedic. He had also entertained on the radio and as a stand-up comic as Caveman, started American Man Cave stores and the Caveman Cigar Company, and became the Harris County Emergency Services Commissioner. All of these experiences (Bruce calls himself a total Type-A-adrenaline junkie) allowed him to call on and lead others to save fellow Houston citizens in their time of need.

 

What made this all the more astounding is that Bruce has lived through life and death battles with disease for much of his life, including three bouts of cancer, two heart attacks, a year in the hospital with lungs filled with blood clots and most recently in May, kidney problems. But that didn’t stop Bruce from calling on his friends and fellow Texans to save other Texans. He put other lives ahead of his own.

 

 

 

FIGHTING THE TOXIC FLOODS

On Sunday, August 27, Bruce wrote on his Facebook page: “If you, or anyone you know needs to get out of a flooded area, please let me know. A few of us retired first responders are loading up a boat, gasoline, winch, emergency supplies, etc. We can help if you need it.” Later that evening, he wrote, “Made it back safe and sound. The flood waters and storm devastation are so bad out there. If need be, Anthony Wright, April Phillips, and I, will go out again tomorrow with the boat, and emergency supplies, to assist anyone we can reach safely.” And at 10:46pm, he pleaded, “If anyone has a flat bottom boat they would let my friends and I use to get some flood bound people out of their homes, please contact me. The boat we are using currently is small, and a larger boat would make a huge difference in helping us to help flood victims get to safety. We can also use any extra life jackets that you can loan us. Please share this post.” They called themselves the Three Amigos Rescue team and went to Seven Acres Senior Citizens Home to help.

On August 28th, he wrote, “We ran out of daylight and left 60 people in a school because it became too dangerous with water getting deeper, currents, and darkness. We DESPERATELY NEED A BIGGER BOAT, or several!!! All rescue efforts are by volunteers. Please help us save trapped people. We need a bigger boat by morning.” On August 29th, he told us, “Waters are rapidly rising. Tell anyone needing rescue to hang white towels from doors and windows, and to stay put until they see a rescue team.” At this point, the Caveman Rescue Team were “wet, tired, and extremely grateful that we were able to make a positive difference in the lives of so many families. The Team Volunteers are an amazing group of selfless individuals. I am so proud of them. Tomorrow morning we’ll be back at it. Thanks to all of you for the emotional and financial support. Your support means the world to countless Texans, their friends and families, Caveman Rescue Team, and most especially, yours truly.

The next day, Caveman Rescue Team worked with several rescue teams, successfully getting over 500 people, and countless pets out of harm’s way, south of Memorial Drive to Briar Forest, west from Highway 6, east to Wilcrest. The team in Port Arthur rescued and relocated numerous people, and four horses. Bruce displayed a picture on Facebook of a smiling dog. When asked about it, Bruce wrote, the (dog’s) “owner is in LA on business. She left her dog, and cat with a neighbor; the neighbor apparently evacuated days ago, leaving the beautiful animals locked in an empty apartment. When she returns, her fur babies will be waiting.”

Bruce was interviewed by Houston Public Radio, the National Public Radio’s Morning Addition tomorrow morning, as well as Reuters News Agency. He also had a news crew from Italy riding along and accompanying them during their rescue efforts, and a news crew from Spain. They also took CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and her team of doctors and scientists out to get water samples to determine the pollutants, heavy metals, and chemicals in the floodwaters.

Allison Lee from Houston Public Radio (“Volunteers are Helping with Water Rescue Efforts,” August 31, 2017), wrote, “Rescue efforts have been underway for nearly a week now. Emergency responders have been working tirelessly around the clock, and volunteers are pitching in to rescue victims of Tropical Storm Harvey. Bellville resident Bruce Margolis says he has organized a volunteer rescue team—made of 7 boats and about 14 volunteers, so far. News 88.7 caught up with him, before he headed over to Memorial and Kirkwood, on the Westside. Margolis says some on his team are retired emergency responders, and they’re also using boats from other cities and states.

“‘We’ve got Florida here, we’ve got Fort Worth, we’ve got Dallas, we’ve got local ones. We’ve got Michigan on the way. We’ve got more [from] Florida on the way, too,’ he said. While resources are coming in from other cities, Margolis says being a local resident is also an advantage to rescue efforts. ‘We know the area better than a lot of the folks coming in from out of state, or around the state,’ he said. ‘We try to get to the places they’re not.’

“Margolis has been posting some of his team’s rescue efforts on social media. Margolis says emotions run high, for both the evacuees and the rescue team. ‘It’s emotional, when you rescue a baby,’ he said. ‘Or you see that senior citizen who can’t walk and we’re having to carry them through the water.’ He says they ask for them to take only the very bare essentials. ‘There’s a lot of nervousness. They have got all the anxiety and all the emotions of leaving everything behind,’ says Margolis. ‘They literally have the clothes on their back. Some of them have a bag, some of them have a couple suitcases, and lot of them have just what they’re wearing.’ He says some people in rescue areas have refused to go with them, and they’ve lost count of how many people they have rescued.”

 

 

SICKNESS, SORROW, AND A LONG CLIMB BACK TO DRY LAND

On Sunday, September 3rd, Bruce’s Facebook friend, Dwayne Williams, wrote, “Bruce I have been so impressed this past week not only in you and your team and the terrific job you have done, but also the thousands of Americans who selflessly sprung into action to help those in desperate need. The road ahead will be challenging but there is no doubt that Texas will recover and will be that beacon of light that shows the world what Americans can accomplish together. God Bless.”

After more than a week of Team Caveman and his boats of rescuers going door to door across Texas, there were at least 40 people in South Texas who perished but Bruce’s crews saved over 1000 people and animals from the perils of flooding toxic waters. They were part of many heroic rescue efforts from professionals from all over the world and simple citizens who just wanted to help. Estimates are that over 75,000 people were saved from drowning, illness, and other hazards.

When the calls for rescue ended and Team Caveman finally rested, Bruce admitted that he was exhausted. “On behalf of Team Caveman,” he summed up, “we are honored to be able to make a difference. The outpouring of civilian volunteers coming from across the nation and around the world has been mind blowing. Those civilians who took off of work, brought in their high water rescue vehicles, boats, canoes, kayaks, medical and first aid equipment, cases of water, etc., should restore even the most cynical person that people will help people in their moment of need.

“Now that the rescues have are down, and the waters begin to recede, the next chapter begins. The recovery/repair chapter does not make for interesting pictures and videos. It is a non-glorious, filthy, and still dangerous phase of the story known as Harvey.

“Team Caveman volunteers are running on little rest, and minimal food breaks, as the dozen or so volunteers remain. We will continue the efforts of providing relief, as well as distributing monetary gift cards to the individuals and families that lost everything. Every bit of effort, and all financial donations matter. Team Caveman is made up of 100% volunteers. Donations go straight to those in need, without a penny going toward overhead or staffing. We are still accepting and distributing donations. This will continue as until the last dollar has helped those effected by devastation resulting from Harvey. https://www.gofundme.com/evxaav-harvey-disaster-fund#GoTeamCaveman

Bruce and his teams admitted they knew the “risks, visible and invisible,” with the Harvey Rescue. They found out from the inspector amidst the CNN crew that the waters were filled with bacteria, chemicals, and fecal matter. Several of his team, including Bruce, began to experience some health issues and one of his team members because very ill and was admitted to a Houston Hospital, where she was pumped full of liquids and antibiotics and a tetanus shot before being released.

 

FAITH IN MANKIND

On Facebook, Bruce calls himself President for Life and Founder of Project World Peace. “Life is always interesting and never boring,” he claims. “After several years of utter craziness, I’ve dedicated the remainder of my life and energy to teaching the world the importance of tolerance, peace, and love.” And on Labor Day, 2017, he wrote, “It’s not about political affiliation, religious or spiritual beliefs, ethnicity, race, sexuality, or where we’re from. The volunteers that make up Team Caveman, who left their comfort zones, homes, and families, to risk their lives to help strangers, are my proof. They are my heroes! Our volunteers were Asian, Brown, Black, White, liberal, moderate, conservative, straight, gay, atheist, Christian, Jewish, Pagan, women, men, from Texas, California, Michigan, Florida, and Ontario, Canada. Donations for our efforts have come from across the nation, and around the world. We rescued everyone we could, without judgement or prejudices.

“My faith in mankind is stronger than ever. So please, after the Harvey tragedy is over, I hope people will quit judging others for their beliefs, show empathy, practice random acts of kindness, spread kindness, peace, and love!”

Eleven years after his parents’ car accident, Bruce wrote, “To this day, people who hear of the accident say ‘I’m so sorry.’ While the sentiment is appreciated, there is no reason to express condolences or sorrow anymore. You see, my parents never really left me. They remain alive within me, I talk to them daily, and it’s amazing how much guidance they provide to me throughout my days. Of course I miss their physical presence, sharing life events with them, our conversations, their loving hugs and kisses.

“I am thankful for everything they gave me. I know they did the best they knew how to do and loved me, my sister, my brothers, their grandchildren, our entire family and their friends. Most of all, I know how much they loved one another. For all of that, I am grateful. Still, this date and hour are painful. Regardless, when I think of Bernie and Marlene, between the tears I smile, I am thankful for the life they gave me, and the time we had together. My only regret is that they didn’t get to know Michelle and Joshua. Mom, Dad, thank you. You are missed. I love you.

“Perhaps Facebook is an odd place to share this piece of myself and my parents. But putting it into words, and sharing my love of my parents with others, somehow makes it easier for me to get through this day.”

Bruce told me that his parents knew that he loved to help others and were inspired by his time as a Fireman and Paramedic. But in the years since their passing, Bruce has never given up, no matter what diseases and troubles came his way. He has shown his compassion, political passion, and caring toward others, all exemplified by his efforts since Hurricane Harvey, calling out of nowhere to so many others to help him help others.

Bruce has done his family proud. His parents must be looking down on him and smiling at the boy they raised, the boy who became a Caveman in the Flood, leading others, rescuing everyone he could, without judgement or prejudice, spreading kindness, peace, and love throughout the deep, dark, frightening waters of Texas

Bruce Margolis parents

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