Galveston Baby oysterman and Gulf Seafood Foundation Board Member Raz Halili (on Jet Ski) joins an armada of rescuers as waters rise from Hurricane Harvey in South Texas. Photo: Prestige Oysters

by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink & Gulf Seafood Foundation Board Member

Gulf oysterman Raz Halili ferries a Houston flood victim to dry land during Hurricane Harvey. Photo: Prestige Oysters

Sitting in his Kemah, TX home on Galveston Bay, Raz Halili was sure the small tropical storm named Harvey hovering off the coast of Texas was of little concern. A week later with his family’s oyster damaged, shrimp boats sunk, fishermen’s homes underwater or destroyed he realized his miscalculations on the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

Halili, a Board Member of the Gulf Seafood Foundation, considers himself lucky. Although the family oyster business, Prestige Oysters, suffered damage to both buildings and docks, his family was safe and houses stayed dry.

Worst Flood in U.S. History

“The small tropical storm that everyone thought was going to be no big deal turned into the worse flooding disaster in U.S. history of our country,” said the Galveston oysterman. “It is just devastating when viewed first hand. But there was a silver lining. In this time of need our community came together to help each other without regard to race, religion or political views. This is Texas spirit and the true character of America.”

Halili didn’t really count the number of people he ferried from their flooded homes to dry land, including this flood victim and his dog. Photo: Prestige Oysters

While Harvey was dumping more than 30 inches of rain on the Houston area, Halili and his cousins, Gezim Halili, an oyster boat captain for the family business and Fatmir Halili, took to jet skis to perform water rescues as floodwaters rose in Dickerson, Friendswood and Port Arthur.

“We would leave the house in the early morning, do water rescues for more than 12 hours and then come back to relocate our refrigerated trucks from different shelter to keep food from spoiling,” he said. “We didn’t really count the number of people we ferried from their flooded homes to dry land, it was helping in any way we could.”

One of the most harrowing experiences for Halili’s was rescuing a man who had managed to flip his canoe in the middle of a rushing creek while trying to get back to his flooded house in Houston. “We managed to scoop him up, but it’s a great possibility if we weren’t there he wouldn’t have survived,” said the Jet Ski hero.

According to the Galveston Bay oysterman, he assisted people of all economic classes; ages, nationalities and race get out homes as the floodwaters rose. “Our jet ski’s also had to tow a number of boats that were getting stuck, including a Coast Guard vessel that we pulled out of trees in Port Arthur,” Halili said.

Halili wades through the water to retrieve mattresses and put them on a flatbed boats. Photo: Prestige Oysters

The three oystermen also helped in the move of residents from a flooded Galveston nursing home, a highly publicized event that made national news.

“We were also at the nursing home in Port Arthur while it was being evacuated,” he explained. “We couldn’t take patients on the Jet Ski’s, so we waded through the water to retrieve mattresses and put them on a flatbed boat so they had something to sleep on that night.”

Albanian/American Paying Back

“I am an Albanian/American. My family’s native county of Kosovo owes it freedom to this country. For us this was a token of appreciation; a show of the great love and admiration Albanians have for Americans.”

Raz Halili and his cousins, Gezim Halili, an oyster boat captain for the family business and Fatmir Halili, would do water rescues for more than 12 hours each day. Photo: Prestige Oysters

With waters from the largest flood in U.S. history continuing to rush into Galveston and other Bay, Halili says it is hard to be optimistic about having a good oyster season anytime in the near future.

“I just don’t see how oysters can survive with that much fresh water, but I hope they can. Right now Galveston Bay looks like a melted chocolate bar. It is terrible, I have never in my life seen anything like it before,” he said standing on the muddy shore.

For him it is too soon to tell the how the long it will take the Texas fishing community to recovery from Hurricane Harvey. “We know from our experience with Hurricane Ike in 2008 that it takes years for oysters to bounce back. Galveston Bay was just starting to produce at the levels it did before the previous most destructive hurricane in the area.”

Fishermen Suffering

Texas oyster fishermen were suffering before the storm hit. The previous year a short season has stretched their limited funds as they tried to make do waiting for the new season to open. Hurricane Harvey has dashed those hopes. Many lost both boats and homes.

Prestige Oysters donated one of its delivery trucks for storage and delivery of donated food to shelters across the Houston area. Photo: Prestige Oysters

“It is time for the fishing community around the country, as well as our friends in the restaurant and hospitality industries, to come together to assist our Gulf fishermen,” pleaded Halili. “ They will be needing to repair boats, as well as new dredges, chains, and other equipment.   In addition, a lot of them have lost their home and are living in shelters.   It’s sad, just really sad. They are going to be in real trouble this upcoming season.”

Prestige Oysters has donated one of its delivery trucks for storage and delivery of donated food to shelters across the Houston area.

The young member of a multigenerational oyster family said that since the day after the hurricane hit the truck has been in use nonstop. It has delivered more than 15,000 meals to date. “Refrigerated trucks are essential for the food being donated because of the of lack freezers storage in the Houston area due of power outages or flood damage, Halili explained.”

Halili tows a Coast Guard vessel from trees in Port Arthur. Photo: Prestige Oysters

The company’s other truck has been used to deliver bottled water to various airports so it can airlift into the remote areas.

These fishermen were already suffering from a previously poor season so their income has been very low. They need to get back on their feet. The Gulf Seafood Foundation is committed any funds it raises for the rest of the year to go to Gulf fishermen. With Irma approaching the Florida area, it is only going to get worse,” said Halili, who is assisting in the distribution of donated funds. “Any donations would be greatly appreciated to help these fishermen back on their feet so they can continue to provide great Gulf Seafood to tables across America.”

How to Contribute

Florida Gulf Fishermen Affected From Hurricane Irma 

Every dollar donated to the Foundation will go toward helping those who provide Gulf fish to the tables across America and around the world.  Gulf fishermen are resilient. They are survivors. They have been through this before and we have always come back stronger.  This will be no exception.

To donate to the Gulf Seafood Foundation’ “Helping Hands” please choose the DONATE button below or send a check or money order to: Gulf Seafood Foundation Hurricane Harvey Relief,  2851 Johnston Street, Suite 162, Lafayette, LA 70503.

Gulf Oysterman Displays Heroics During Hurricane Harvey Flooding
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