Every nook and cranny of the Dassault Falcon 2000 was filled with surgical masks, hygiene kits and 900 pounds of Meals, Ready to Eat. Tracy and Laurie Krohn propped their feet on boxes as the business aircraft touched down at Hobby Airport.
They’d been away on business and trying to get home to Houston since Sunday. But Hurricane Harvey devastated the region.
Having lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, the pair recalled how welcoming the Bayou City was when they moved here. Thursday’s flight was an opportunity to repay that kindness. So they flew from Boston to Farmingdale, N.Y., to pick up supplies and bring them back to Houston.
“Whatever we can do to help, we will,” said Tracy Krohn, CEO of W&T Offshore.
Their business aircraft was the first of many expected to descend on the city with toiletries, cleanup supplies and food.
“When tragedies like Harvey strike, we find that a lot of these entrepreneurs and companies raise their hand and ask, ‘I have this asset how can I help?'” said Dan Hubbard, spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association.
So in 2009, his association organized these efforts with the Humanitarian Emergency Response Operator, or HERO, database. It has more than 100 aircraft and 200 volunteers ready to help in the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Harvey.
Their planes are smaller than those operated by the airlines, so they have more flexibility to fly into regional airports and get supplies closer to the affected areas.
Helping coordinate the efforts in the greater Houston area is Janine K. Iannarelli, president and founder of Houston-based Par Avion. She has been working with pilots, the National Business Aviation Association, Harris County Sheriff’s Office Foundation, Patient AirLift Services and a host of local organizations to gather the supplies, get them on a plane and then distribute them to agencies helping with recovery and relief.
Iannarelli said they’re helping any organization in need, but she’s also reaching out to groups located in more rural areas. They may find it difficult to get to larger airports for supplies.
“There will be no shortage of people willing to donate their aircraft or their time,” she said.
The city’s three airports are also supporting “flights that will bring much needed supplies and support for the thousands of people who have been affected by the storm,” Houston Airport System spokesman Bill Begley said.
United Airlines has been flying in supplies, and Southwest Airlines planned to fly in supplies between Thursday and Saturday.
Hobby Airport and Bush Intercontinental Airport both reopened Wednesday afternoon, and they’re slowly phasing in flights. As of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, there were 113 flights scheduled to depart from Bush Intercontinental Airport on Thursday and three Delta Air Lines flights scheduled to depart from Hobby.
As of early Thursday afternoon, United Airlines was scheduled to have 27 departures and 44 arrivals on Thursday.
“We’re focusing on domestic flights right now,” said United spokesman Charlie Hobart. “As we continue to build that schedule, we’ll look to add international departures as well.”
Southwest Airlines said it will begin flying from Hobby on Saturday afternoon.
Hobby’s concourses were filled with some lucky travelers and a team of dedicated employees Thursday afternoon.
“You guys OK today?” Sarah Freddie, administration manager at Hobby Airport, asked her fellow employees. “It was a great effort. It really made us a family, didn’t it?”
Freddie had been at the airport since Friday evening. She was tasked with coordinating and keeping track of the passengers and various employees. She did this by working with the Airport Emergency Operations Center to get an accurate head count of everyone in the building. This also provided her up-to-date information to provide passengers on flight statuses and flooded roadways.
When it became evident that some passengers would be stranded at the airport, Robert Riedle of Four Families made sure every traveler and employee was fed. Four Families is the concessionaire that runs the restaurants at Hobby Airport.
The company continued to feed the various airport employees after the customers were flown out of Hobby. Freddie even got into a kitchen Tuesday to help feed the lunch crowd.
Following the storm, Freddie and many other employees continued to ready the airport despite having their own homes damages. Part of Freddie’s ceiling had caved in.
“It keeps your mind off of it, because what could I do?” Freddie asked. She put that energy toward helping others.
Back at the Dassault Falcon 2000 on Thursday, it took just half an hour to unload the supplies and pack them into vehicles of employees with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary Greene.
His team is providing ground transportation in scenarios where the relief agencies can’t get to the airport to collect supplies. On Thursday, they took the Meals, Ready to Eat to the Houston Food Bank and a church in the Friendswood area. The surgical masks and hygiene kits also went to churches in the Friendswood area.
Tracy Krohn was eager to help again.
“Hopefully we will be able to continue doing this on other flights,” he said.