Days before the massive rainfall produced by Tropical Storm Harvey overwhelmed Houston and other Texas communities, Darlene Helms and Margaret Rode, both volunteers for the American Red Cross of Maine, did not hesitate for an assignment they knew could be dangerous.

Helms, who lives in Hampden, became trapped in a hotel outside Houston this weekend, while Rode, from Tenants Harbor, was supposed to help establish emergency shelters in Houston but never made it to the nation’s fourth-largest city, instead having her flight rerouted to Dallas.

But both women – even as tornado warnings kept them and others on edge – said Sunday they are glad they came to Texas to provide whatever help they can to the residents whose lives have been disrupted by one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history.

Meanwhile, a Portland native who lives in a Houston suburb said Sunday she and her family made the right decision in evacuating to Dallas before the storm hit with full force. And a Biddeford native who lives in Houston was hunkered down with his family there.

STRANDED NEAR HOUSTON

Helms, 64, became stranded Sunday evening in a hotel in Sugar Land, about 12 miles outside Houston, after having to leave the highway while driving from Galveston to Richmond.

She arrived in Texas on Friday to help set up an emergency shelter in Galveston and had been driving Saturday night to a new destination with three other Red Cross volunteers when rising waters forced them off Highway 59.

“Our (rental) car is ruined,” Helms said.

The manager of the hotel gave Helms and her team of volunteers a room on the third floor of the nine-story hotel. Helms said the first floor of the Crowne Plaza Suites Hotel was completely flooded Sunday, with water levels rising up to her knees. Though the flooding had subsided to ankle level Sunday night, the weather forecast was calling for another 20 inches of rain by Monday.

Helms said her team of volunteers – she is the only one from Maine – want people back home to know that they are safe, but are not going anywhere until the floodwaters recede. In the meantime, they were doing their best to keep the other guests in the hotel calm.

“We came here to help with the rescue effort and are going to end up getting rescued ourselves,” Helms said in a telephone interview Sunday night, just minutes before she had to seek shelter after the people in the hotel received a frightening tornado warning. “We’re calling it trapped because we can’t get out.”

Helms said the last meal she had was a cold breakfast Sunday morning, but she and the other volunteers still had plenty of drinking water.

“I can look out my window and see a big sign that says Olive Garden, but we can’t get over there and they aren’t serving food,” she said of the restaurant.

Helms said she volunteers for the Red Cross because she like helping others in distress. The work can also be exciting, said Helms, who is retired. She works part time as the manager of the Elks Lodge in Bangor.

“I have no regrets, absolutely not,” Helms said, as her companions urged her to get off the phone and take shelter. “I do this because I love adventure, and the adrenaline rush.”

Rode, a retired social worker, said her flight was diverted Saturday afternoon from Houston to Dallas, so instead of setting up a Red Cross shelter in Houston, she was reassigned to work as a volunteer at a shelter in Austin.

Rode said Sunday night that the Austin shelter has taken in hundreds of residents from coastal communities whose homes may have been destroyed by Harvey.

“I think people are glad to have a place to stay, but it’s been really difficult for many of them. The uncertainty is a big factor because they don’t know if their home or apartment is still standing,” she said.

Rode said she had no reservations about flying into Texas.

“I do this because I want to contribute and I know that I can make a difference in people’s lives. I am pleased that I can be here,” Rode explained.

Also in Austin on Sunday was Laurie Levine of Poland, an employee of the American Red Cross of Maine. She was there to coordinate community organizations in the operation of 22 shelters established in the city for storm victims.

She said Austin has also been deluged with rain, pounded by high winds and seen its own flooding.

“After two or three days without power, the shelter population rises drastically,” she said.

PORTLAND NATIVE MADE ‘RIGHT CHOICE’

By Sunday night, Portland native Anna McDermott and her husband knew they had made the right call to evacuate their two children, a border collie and themselves from a Houston suburb to a Dallas motel, about 3½ hours north of Houston.

“It is clear we made the right choice even though it is really nerve-wracking,” she said.

McDermott said she and her family decided to stay in Dallas at least through Thursday before returning to their two-story home in Cypress, a Houston suburb.

McDermott said she and her family are starting to have second thoughts about living in Texas. She said her native Maine is starting to look more appealing.

McDermott said Texas has been blisteringly hot the past few days, not dropping below 90 degrees and approaching 100 degrees.

“This is the hottest place I have lived,” she said.

McDermott, who telecommutes from Texas as a content creator for Nancy Marshall Communications of Maine, said her Texan-born neighbors in Cypress couldn’t believe it when she and her husband made the call to leave. But she said there was no way she wanted to be stranded in a house with two children and a dog without power and 100-degree temperatures.

She said neighbors checked on her pool, which she drained by about 15 inches before they left. It had yet to overflow by Sunday evening, but she wondered how long that would be the case with the heavy rainfall.

“But they are expecting something like 30 more inches,” McDermott said.

She said she and her family and dog were hunkered down in their hotel room, watching events unfold on TV and trying to stay in touch with friends who had to move onto the second floor of their own house because of flooding on the first floor.

She said her husband was expecting to go to work as usual Monday because his company has an office in Dallas.

Meanwhile, Buddy Charity, a Biddeford native who has lived in Houston for 16 years, said Sunday afternoon he was feeling blessed. He said that so far he and his wife had power, their apartment complex was dry and they could seek shelter several floors up in the complex if the situation changes. His children live about 100 yards away in a nearby complex. His children and grandchildren are doing fine so far, Charity said, and he was receiving phone calls every hour or so from his family back in Maine.

But the situation is changing quickly, he said. He ventured out in his four-wheel-drive pickup truck around 1 p.m. to check on his sandwich shop about a mile away, where earlier in the day there was about an inch of water on the ground. He had to turn around because the roads were flooded. Early Sunday afternoon Charity and his wife started getting alerts about possible tornadoes in their area.

“The phones and TV kept us up all night with all the alerts,” he said.

Attempts to reach Charity were unsuccessful Sunday night.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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