By John Denton Aug. 30, 2017
ORLANDO – Already tired and famished from the four mostly sleepless nights he had to stay sheltered from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey in suburban Houston, Jonathon Simmons found himself treading through knee-high, muddy waters with a child in his arms on Tuesday.
Rather than being upset about how his hometown of Houston had been ravaged by the unthinkable surge of rising storm waters, Simmons instead felt truly blessed that there were those on hand to help him and his family escape to safety.
Though his hometown was mostly underwater and much of the previous 72 hours were scary times, Simmons never felt prouder of hailing from Houston than he did on Tuesday.
``It’s devastating,’’ said Simmons, a forward for the Orlando Magic. ``Luckily, none of my family was seriously affected, but I see a lot of my friends suffering and that’s difficult. But I’m also proud of how the city of Houston has come together to help one another. On the upside and the brighter side, there’s that seeing how people have been there to help one another.’’
Simmons, who left the San Antonio Spurs this offseason to sign a free-agent contract with the Orlando Magic, was one of those who benefitted greatly from the generosity and care provided by others in Houston. His escape to safety on Tuesday – even though he was crowded onto a boat with two-dozen others, had to trek through knee-deep waters and forced to ride on the back of a truck – was assisted by rescue workers in Houston.
The NBA family is working with a number of community organizations to provide necessary and immediate relief and support to those affected by Houston’s flooding. Simmons’ new NBA team, the Magic, have been active in lending support to those in need in Houston and Southeast Texas.
Simmons, a Houston native who survived the mean streets of his childhood neighborhood to eventually make it to college and later the NBA, left his downtown high-rise condo and headed to a friend’s house in Richmond, Texas on Saturday afternoon just hours before Hurricane Harvey’s effects started lashing Houston. Having been through many hurricanes before, Simmons brought what he thought was enough food, water and bedding for what potentially might be a three-day stay.
Simmons, who evolved into a standout NBA player last spring when he filled in marvelously for the injured Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs, never could have imagined what came next.
``Saturday night it started raining about 8 o’clock, but we had gotten over there about 3 o’clock just to be safe,’’ Simmons recalled on Wednesday morning. ``I had bought all of these air mattresses and covers and blankets and food and water for everybody. We were good for three days, but my other friend’s house had started getting flooded early, so he came there to the house, too. So that gave us another 11 extra people and most of them were kids. We had to let the kids eat first, so most of the last two days it was kind of rough (without food).
``There was at least 20 people in the house and probably eight of them were kids,’’ Simmons added. ``When I was little, my mom always kept the fridge full of stuff (during hurricanes). This time, I ate a pack of ramen noodles and that’s all for like a day-and-a-half.’’
The house where Simmons was staying never had water come inside thanks to its positioning on a hill, but flooding did get within 10 feet of the front door. Across the street, however, people there weren’t nearly as lucky and they had to seek other shelter right away. Simmons said the house where he was staying never lost power, allowing him to watch the heartbreaking television coverage of the flood waters swamping Houston.
When the food supplies disappeared, Simmons knew that he had to get his family and friends to safety as soon as possible. Luckily for him, rapper Trae the Truth – a fellow Houston native – came to the rescue.
``Trae the Truth, the rapper, is from Houston and we know a mutual friend from San Antonio. They brought a boat to Houston because (Trae) had to evacuate as well,’’ Simmons said of the rapper, who has gained additional notoriety recently in Houston for helping dozens of others evacuate flooded areas. ``They came and got (Trae) and then he came and got us right away. Luckily, I had a friend in the area who could help us out.’’
As it turns out, Simmons and his friends still had quite the treacherous trek to get to safety. But his plight paled in comparison to what millions of others are enduring while battling Houston’s flood waters.
``We still had to ride a boat, walk through muddy water and ride on the back of a dumpster truck for like five miles. It was crazy,’’ Simmons recalled. ``I had to hold up my people and I had some kids with me. Most of the kids were old enough to walk, but one of them I had to carry with me.’’
Simmons said he has been unable to get back to his high-rise condo in downtown Houston because of the flooding in the area, and that he’s still without a vehicle for transportation. He said his spirits were lifted when Magic coach Frank Vogel, Spurs GM R.C. Buford, teammates from Orlando and San Antonio and various NBA players reached out to him in recent days to check on his safety. NBA security and Orlando Magic Director of Player Development Becky Bonner also played a key role in assisting and communicating with Simmons throughout the ordeal.
In the coming days, as the waters hopefully recede, Simmons said he wants to do what he can to give back to others in this decimated city. He wants to donate his time and his money to help those in Houston – the same way the city came to his rescue in his time of need earlier this week.
``A lot of people want to help, so that’s been nice,’’ Simmons said. ``I want to do whatever I can to help out anyway that I can when that’s possible.’’
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