Ailene Voisin

‘I was thinking survival’: How a Kings coach and his family escaped flooding in Texas

Kings assistant coach Elston Turner works with players during pregame warmups last season.
Kings assistant coach Elston Turner works with players during pregame warmups last season. Sacramento Bee file

Kings assistant Elston Turner was in his suburban Houston home when Hurricane Ike struck in 2008, forced to purchase sandbags, monitor conditions on the news, inquire about the safety of his neighbors.

 
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But this is different, he says. Ike was a junior varsity team compared to Hurricane Harvey, the epic storm that pounded the Gulf Coast for days and continues to threaten levees and flood rivers, creeks and bayous.

“Total devastation,” Turner said from his cellphone Friday. “You almost can’t believe what you’re seeing. It’s exhausting, more mentally than physically, and there’s more to come. But my family is OK, we’re all OK, and we’re better off than a lot of people.”

Like many residents of the region, Turner offers a harrowing account of the past several days. His son, Elston Jr., had just left for Italy, where he plays professional basketball, when the hurricane struck. His wife, Louise, and daughter, Taylor, were intent on waiting out the storm at the family’s house in an upscale development about 15 miles south of downtown.

Together they watched the television reports nonstop, contacted friends and relatives, watched as many of their neighbors – unnerved by the relentless driving rain and punishing wind – heeded the voluntary evacuation advisory and fled to hotels and shelters.

On Saturday, a tornado ripped through the streets, tearing roofs off an estimated 50 homes in their Sienna Plantation community, splitting trees in half and yanking them out of the ground, many destroying cars upon landing. Two days later, police arrived in SUVs and, speaking through megaphones, notified residents that the voluntary advisory had been upgraded. Everyone was told to leave, immediately, while everyone still could.

“It was about 8 o’clock Monday morning,” Turner recalled. “The police cars, the loudspeakers, scared the crap out of everybody. You kind of panic when they say, ‘Get out!’ But what do you grab when you leave like that? We were stuffing things in bags, taking pictures off walls, grabbing things that are not replaceable, like baby pictures, birth certificates.

“I had sandbags in the garage and I put them out. We packed a cooler with food, made sure we had plenty of water. It was about a four-hour process. One of our neighbors who had left earlier called and said, ‘Look, there is a little nearby bridge flooding, so you have to leave now.’ We left right away after that and barely got out.”

The next challenge was deciding where to go and how to get there. While Elston drove, searching for a passable route, Louise contacted several hotels. Some were full. Others had vacancies but were not reachable. Sleeping in the truck became a real possibility. “I had brought extra gas cans with us,” he said. “I was thinking survival.”

They eventually found a hotel not far from downtown and reserved a room into early the next week.

With a soft laugh, Turner describes a scene right out of one of those family summer vacation spoofs. Children running around the premises. Televisions blaring. Dogs barking incessantly, their voices slicing through the thin walls.

“It’s like a kennel in here,” he continued, “but we have our two dogs (Nino and Riley) with us, too. I can’t let anything happen to them. We didn’t even ask if the hotels were dog friendly when we called around, because with everything happening, we assumed they would be.”

To alleviate the boredom, the longtime assistant walks his dogs, works out in the fitness room, texts or returns calls from friends and relatives. He has been uplifted by exchanges with Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive, head coach Dave Joerger and several other Kings employees, as well as former Kings/Rockets coach Rick Adelman, his boss during his eight seasons in Sacramento and later in Houston.

“It was great being able to come back to Sac with Dave,” he said. “We moved back into our old house in Roseville and a lot of our neighbors are still there. They came to the house with cakes and cookies, welcoming us back. Special, special place.”

Turner is aware of the Kings’ fundraising efforts and plans by De’Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson to host a charity game in their hometown Houston, and he intends to do his part when circumstances allow. But in the meantime, he is pleading for contributions to the affected communities.

“Whatever people can send,” he urges. “Please. A dollar, five dollars. It doesn’t even have to be money. Pampers, old tennis shoes. A lot of people lost absolutely everything. Devastation, total devastation. But you know what is amazing? You turn on the news and see people responding from all over the country. People helping each other, working together, just like a basketball team. I witnessed it. People rescuing others, risking their lives. Air rescues, boat rescues. People on jet skis driving into houses to save folks. I have never seen anything like it.”

Though eager to assess the damage at his house in the Houston suburb of Missouri City, Turner, who took his family to San Antonio during Hurricane Ike, anticipates being hotel-bound until Monday or Tuesday. One of his neighbors who waited too long to evacuate is sending photos and providing updates. As of Friday, the damage was minimal. But that could change quickly. “We have a river that wraps around the neighborhood, and it’s supposed to crest.”

He had been packed and preparing to fly to Sacramento when the two major airports closed. Also fateful: the fact Louise and Taylor, two years out of college and between jobs, were both at the house.

“If I was by myself,” Turner said, “I probably would have been on the top floor, riding it out. But I had to take care of them. And I’m glad I left. Just the fact that you are moving upstairs, not sure how high the water is going to rise, is extremely stressful. About 33,000 people are in shelters. That’s almost twice as many people as Golden 1 Center seats. And you know the death count is going to rise when the water recedes. There are cars that are visible now that nobody even knew were there.”

With an audible sigh, he ends with this. “I don’t want to see another drop of rain. I can tell you that.”

Sacramento Kings rookies De'Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson discuss relief efforts for their hometown, Houston, which has been devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

Ailene Voisin: 916-321-1208, @ailene_voisin

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