Lane Toungate, a junior in chemical engineering at Rice University, bridles at “hero” and prefers to describe his rescue of a pregnant woman during Hurricane Harvey as a case of “right place, right time, right equipment.”
Toungate serves as the student maintenance representative for McMurty College. He keeps his pickup truck on campus and stows away his 12½-foot kayak, otherwise reserved for fishing and duck hunting. Harvey hit Houston on Saturday, Aug. 26, and on Sunday afternoon Toungate decided to survey the extent of flooding.
“Mostly I went out to take pictures and mess around. I had no other plans,” said Toungate, 20, whose family lives in Dallas. “I was all geared up. I had my Neoprene waders.”
Around 5 p.m., while driving down University Boulevard just north of the rugby field (Toungate is captain of the Rice Rugby Club), the driver of a pickup truck behind him flashed his headlights. Toungate stopped and was told by the driver that a pregnant woman and her dog were trapped in a flooded apartment near the intersection of Buffalo Speedway and Holcombe Boulevard. Could he help? The five-minute drive took almost 20 minutes through the flooded streets.
“I saw a National Guard Humvee sunk in the water almost up to the roof. It was bad,” he said.
Toungate parked in the lot of a retirement home, put on his waders and launched his kayak. The other driver followed him through the chest-high water as Toungate paddled ahead. They found the flooded, first-floor apartment, helped the woman, the dog and her bag of belongings into the kayak, and Toungate pulled it back to the parked trucks. She was three or four months pregnant, in her late 20’s or early 30’s, and Toungate doesn’t know her name.
“She was afraid to get in the water because she didn’t know what the dirt and pollution might do to the baby. Afterwards I got a text from the guy, who said she was safe. I know his name but not hers. He promised to take me out for beers,” he said.
Toungate drove back to campus, took a shower and went back to his duties at McMurtry College.