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Since then, they and their ever-growing crew have been popping up to alleviate all manner of thorny situations. Kids in Port Arthur ISD need school uniforms? They’ll cover the costs. Someone ran out of gas while trying to stay warm in the car? They’ll fill the tank. A ninety-year-old woman is sleeping on a couch in a flood-damaged space? They’ll find her a dry place to stay while they rebuild her home. Woodridge Forest Middle School is flooding? They’ll coordinate an evacuation.
One day this past October, in the wake of Hurricane Delta, the Relief Gang headed to Lafayette, Louisiana, which had been hit hard by wind and rains, to help with cleanup. By nightfall, the crew had removed trees from nearly a dozen roofs and tacked up tarps to prevent interior water damage. The cicadas’ song grew louder, and the mosquitoes came out to investigate the smell of human sweat and test their proboscises’ strength against a preposterous amount of dust and dirt. Only one tree remained. It was an oak so thick it must have been more than a hundred years old. A forty-foot-long limb had been partly severed from the main trunk and had landed on a 1940s-style pier-and-beam home like a giant resting an arm on a table.
Everyone had taken a crack at the smaller attached limbs to break it loose—Trae, Rogers, a retired marine named David Infante—but the main branch, pinned between the trunk and the ground, wouldn’t budge. Finally, Rob Diebler, a tattooed former Army soldier who had previously worked as an arborist, climbed onto the semiattached limb and rode it like a horse as he sawed away at it. Crew members stopped in their tracks to narrate his progress and critique his technique: a few days earlier, during a Relief Gang cleanup, Diebler had accidentally cut into his leg with a chain saw. Freakishly committed, he’d returned about 45 minutes later to continue the job.
“Are you going to cut this limb you’re sitting on?” Trae said, circling him with Rogers and clearly looking for an alternative. “Because I can see why you’re nervous.”
“Hold on. This is going to fall, and I don’t want to be holding . . .” Diebler said, tossing his chain saw to the ground.
“That bitch is going to come down fast,” Trae said.