Lauren Simmons didn’t think much of the rain as she hosted friends to watch the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor boxing match on Aug. 26.
“I’ve lived in my neighborhood for 11 years and we’ve never even gotten close to flooding,” says Simmons, who is from Dickinson, Texas, which was one of the cities hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey. “But I went outside at one point and noticed the water coming over the curves. I went in and said, ‘That’s weird. The water is coming in fast.’ ”
A friend and her son decided to leave and safely made it out of Simmons’ neighborhood. But just 15 minutes later another pal tried to drive out and his truck took on water.
“He showed up at our doorstep and said, ‘I’m stuck here. And the water is coming,’ ” Simmons, 32, tells PEOPLE.
They frantically tried elevating as many of their possessions off the ground as possible, but what was most important was getting her son Bishop, 2, to the second story of the home as the water began entering their home.
“We woke him up and he didn’t know what was going on. He wanted to splash in the puddles but we said, ‘No. We’re going to go upstairs,’ ” says Simmons. “We were fortunate to have a second floor so we could go upstairs, but there were gas cans that had tipped over in our garage so we had gas flooding and we had to open the windows and stick our sons’ head outside because the fumes were so strong and they were coming upstairs. That was the scariest part.”
- For more stories of how neighbors are helping neighbors recover after Hurricane Harvey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE — on newsstands Friday
Simmons, her husband Billy Jack Jones, 34, and Bishop remained on the second floor of their home until they were rescued by Raya and Daren Carr.
“I worked with Raya years ago and she read on Facebook that we were looking for the Coast Guard’s number so we could be rescued,” says Simmons. “They got in their boat and came straight to us.”
Simmons and her family had to evacuate through their kitchen window — though Bishop didn’t seem to mind.
“Luckily for us, he was oblivious when we were getting on the boat. He was actually pretty excited. He was like, ‘We’re going to get on a boat?!’ I was like, ‘Yeah! Let’s keep you excited while mommy has a panic attack,’ ” says Simmons. “I was freaking out but he did so good.”
The only thing that seemed to confuse Bishop was why there was a fire truck in the middle of a “lake.”
As her family was boated to safety, Simmons learned that her gym, The Iron Den, had remained unaffected by the flood water — which damaged an estimated 46,000 homes and led to at least 60 deaths.
Simmons knew she could stay at her parents’ home (along with most of her extended family, whom also got flooded) but despite their personal loss, “we immediately started thinking about how we could use the gym to help others,” she says. “We knew we were going to do something to help our community.”
They opened the gym up as shelter to families in need and started planning a cookout with the help of their gym family, including friends Natalie Dochner and Andrea Pollard, who began coordinating a cookout for flooding victims and first responders.
“I know that we served over 1,000 meals during the cookout. We went to three different neighborhoods and handed them out to people clearing debris out of their homes and first responders,” says Simmons.
Simmons says her family lost many of their possessions and spent time helping their landlord remove wet Sheetrock from their home, but they remained humbled by the way they’ve seen their community rally to support one another.
“My aunt and uncle are in their house, which has been completely destroyed and 40 people showed up to help demolish it. My aunt turned to one guy an said, ‘Do I even know you?’ and he said, ‘No ma’am. I just saw you address on Facebook and wanted to help.’ ” says Simmons. Neighbors that just moved in across the street three weeks ago are just hugging me. They lost more than we did and they’re willing to help. I’ve never been more proud to be from where I’m from.”