Edmonton

Beaumont to Beaumont: Employee of Alberta town helps family find safety in Texas flood

When a message for help during flooding in Beaumont, Texas mistakenly arrived in a Facebook account for the Town of Beaumont, Alta., a town employee spent a night trying to get an American family rescued from their home.

'The water was gushing in her house while I was speaking with her,' says Beaumont, Alta. man

Shiva Shunmungam, who works for the Town of Beaumont, Alta., spent Tuesday evening on the phone, helping a family of five deal with dangerous flooding in Beaumont, Texas. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

When a message for help during flooding in Beaumont, Texas mistakenly arrived in a Facebook account for the Town of Beaumont, Alta., an employee spent a night trying to get an American family rescued from their home.

Around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Shiva Shunmugam, communications coordinator for the town 25 kilometres south of Edmonton, noticed a short, urgent message on the Facebook account for Beaumont's fire hall.

"Terrell houses are flooding need help," it said.

Shunmugam quickly realized the plea wasn't intended for someone in Beaumont, Alta. Instead, it was meant for rescue officials in a southeastern Texas city hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. Terrell is the name of an avenue there.

Beaumont, Texas, population 118,300, is 3,766 kilometres southeast of Beaumont, Alta., population 18,300.

The message Shunmugam read had been written by a woman from Arlington, Texas. She was trying to get help for her daughter and her daughter's four children in Beaumont. Their house had flooded. It was without power and the plumbing no longer worked.

The Arlington woman relayed her daughter's phone number to Shunmugam. He dialled it right away.

"The water was gushing in her house while I was speaking with her," Shunmugam said. " She was quite distressed and I could hear kids in the background."

The message sent to Beaumont (Alberta) Fire Hall's Facebook page on Tuesday evening. (Travis Mcewan/CBC)

He continued to call the woman every hour. With each call, he tried to get as much information as possible.

The woman didn't have power to recharge her phone, so Shunmugam made calls for her with the intention of saving battery life. He took on the role of a middleman, relaying messages between the woman and her mother and providing them with emergency service updates.

Shunmugam got very nervous when the woman told her she was getting into her vehicle with her children and driving to get help.

He called emergency services and they recommended to stay off the road, but when he called the woman he got her voicemail. He left her a message with the information. Soon afterward she called him back to say she had taken the advice, and had pulled over in a parking lot.

He informed the local authorities of the family's new location. After that, communication from the woman stopped.

Good news arrives in Beaumont, Alta.

On Wednesday morning, Shunmugam called the Beaumont, Texas emergency centre, and was told the family had made it there safely.

It just happened to be that I was there at the right time and I was able to help another Beaumontonian from down South.- Shiva Shunmugam

"The whole night I could not sleep. It was the happiest news that I had heard through the evening and night."

Not everyone was as fortunate. A woman in Beaumont, Texas died on Tuesday when she got out of her car in a flooded parking lot with her young daughter. Both were swept into a canal. Rescuers eventually pulled both into a boat but the mother died. The child survived, police said.

Shunmugam said he never doubted that he should continue to try to help the family until they were safe, even though they were so far away from him.

"I'm your everyday Canadian," he said. "This is what we do. In Beaumont, Alta., we are a team of great people.

"It just happened to be that I was there at the right time and I was able to help another Beaumontonian from down South. It was a good feeling."

Shunmugam hopes to hear from the family about how they're doing now that stress levels have decreased for everyone involved.

He said he'd like to meet them sometime in the future so they could explore "the connection that we made through this calamity."

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

@Travismcewancbc

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