A four-man FBI team rescued 150 as Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston

Published 2:44 PM EDT, Tue October 1, 2019
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(CNN) —  

The rain pounded the streets and neighborhoods of Houston for more than four days following the landfall of Category 4 Hurricane Harvey in late August 2017. The downpour caused historic flooding and triggered thousands of rescues. The situation became so dire and resources were so strapped, that the most unlikely law enforcement members were called to step up as first responders.

“We didn’t have specific training, but we knew people needed help,” said FBI Special Agent David Ko, part of the bureau’s SWAT unit in Houston. “Part of being a SWAT team is when the call comes out you go out and help people … and this is what we did.”

As Harvey stalled over Houston, the FBI team received a desperate call from the Houston Police Department. Dozens of police officers, including the chief of police, were trapped at a substation in an inaccessible area. So FBI Special Agent Mike Walker sent out an email asking the 37 FBI agents to come in and help. Only four agents were able to circumvent the surging floodwaters to get in to where the high-water trucks, boats and equipment were stored.

The four-man team quickly formulated a rescue plan to reach the trapped Houston police officers and citizens. Since it was his first time driving the high-water vehicles into deep water, Agent Ko was concerned. “It’s supposed to drive underwater but does it really? Or is it gonna flip over? Or are we going to hit a fire hydrant?”

But the team knew they had a mission to complete. They successfully navigated the fast-moving current and positioned the five-ton truck, anchoring themselves from being swept away. Then, they began the high-water rescue efforts.

“We had taken five or six loads and it’s still pouring down rain,” Agent Mike Walker said.

The team worked through the night, filling the truck to its 30-person capacity several times and bringing people to safety. These FBI agents didn’t let up on their rescue efforts for nearly a week.

This summer, the four men were awarded the Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

“Special Agents David Ko, Jack Walker, Michael Walker, and Justin Widup went above and beyond to rescue more than 150 Houstonians during Harvey’s peak,” Cornyn said at the July 26 ceremony. “In receiving the Congressional Badge of Bravery, they join an elite group of heroes whose acts of courage make our communities and country safer.”

The agents lauded for their heroism and sacrifice are all assigned to the Houston field office’s SWAT unit.

“They represent the helpful spirit of Houstonian people who wanted to put themselves at risk for the benefit of somebody else,” Mayor Turner said.

The Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery was introduced in 2008 to honor exceptional acts of heroism by law enforcement officers at every level – state, local, and federal – while in the line of duty.

“It was definitely humbling,” said Special Agent Justin Widup. “You never get into this job for awards. I’ve been in law enforcement 15 years and I’ve never done it to be recognized. You want to help people. I think we all would like to share with all the officers in this city that we’re out there helping everybody because everybody is deserving of it.”