There are many tales of heroic rescue efforts by volunteers that have emerged in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. One of those tales, however, is an unusual story that involves Coca-Cola and a couple of determined volunteers with a boat.
The water treatment plant in Beaumont, Texas, (about 50 miles east of Houston near the Texas/Louisiana border) had gone offline in the days after Hurricane Harvey. With rescues in the area ongoing and relief efforts overwhelmed, the lack of clean water was a major problem.
Rescue workers, however, were informed by a Coca-Cola employee that their warehouse in Beaumont contained thousands of bottles of water, but flooding made it nearly inaccessible. They offered the water to rescue workers, if they could retrieve it. To get it, they needed to find someone with a boat willing to go get it.
Enter Bill Zang, a hovercraft business owner in Illinois, who drove down with two of his boats to assist in recovery efforts. He partnered with Sam Byers, an EMT from Arlington, Texas who was volunteering in the area. The pair took a hovercraft to the warehouse and managed to break in, all with Coca-Cola’s permission.
The firefighters asked Zang if he could help, he said. And so he and Byers found themselves standing behind the Coca-Cola warehouse a few minutes after 3 p.m. After entering the gate they motored to the building, where Byers broke a window with a hammer, reached inside and pulled a door open.
Inside they found tens of thousands of bottles of Fanta, Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola and Dasani brand bottled water. They loaded 14 cases of water onto the hovercraft’s flat deck, powered up and sped away. The cases later would be picked up by other volunteers and delivered to National Guard troops, who would distribute them to Harvey evacuees.
Most of the time, Zang was combing inside and out of flooded neighborhoods, looking for people or animals to rescue. It is exhausting work, but for a short time, he and Sam Byers were able to divert from the effort to raid an abandoned Coca-Cola warehouse and deliver much-needed water to rescue workers.
Eventually, the state of Texas was able to get larger water shipments delivered to the area, providing relief to workers and victims.