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Human Interest

Quick-Thinking 13-Year-Old Saves 17 People Using Just an Air Mattress During Hurricane Harvey

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As Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters took over his first-floor apartment in Dickinson, Texas, 13-year-old Virgil Smith left his building and entered the dangerous waters to heroically come to the aid of his neighbors—all while using an air mattress.

Virgil and his mother, Lisa Wallace, took shelter in a nearby neighbor’s second-floor apartment after water rushed into their ground floor home. It was around 2 a.m. when young Virgil received a call from friends requesting help because they couldn’t swim.

“I was like, ‘Man, I gotta go get them right now,’ ” Virgil told ABC 13 News. “I gotta go help my friends.”

Virgil swam back to his apartment from his neighbor’s place to retrieve an air mattress his family stores for guests, and then sprang into action. “I put him, his two sisters, one baby and his brother, and I had my other friend by the hand right here, and I set his momma and his step-dad on the air mattress,” he said.

With help from two other neighbors, Virgil guided the mattress and its passengers through the water to the second-floor room where his mother was waiting. But he didn’t stop there—he and his team used the mattress to rescue other neighbors in need. Virgil says he even helped to retrieve an elderly woman in a wheelchair.

“She was like, ‘Help, help!’ and we were like, ‘We got you’,” he told ABC 13.

Dickinson, Texas, about 30 miles from Houston, is also the location of a viral photograph taken during Hurricane Harvey that showed senior residents of the La Vita Bella nursing home facility sitting in floodwaters as they waited to be rescued.

Virgil’s mother, Lisa, said her faith is what kept her confident as she watched her son maneuver through the manacing debris-filled waters. “All I’m thinking about is I know he’s able to save. He can rescue, he can swim, and I just had faith in the Lord that everything was gonna be alright,” she said.

Meanwhile, valiant Virgil says he is just happy he wasn’t bitten by snakes or alligators during the rescue.