In the photo, little Aiden Pham — 13 months old and swaddled in a blanket — nestled asleep in his mother’s arms, even as floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey surge around them.
Someday, no doubt, Aiden’s mother will tell him about the day Houston police rescued them from their flooded home by boat, and about how one officer lifted them to safety. But thanks to the careful eye of a veteran Associated Press photographer assigned to cover the storm, the world already knows the mother, child and officer as the faces of the struggle to deal with the devastation.
“I was just keeping an eye out and as soon as I saw the SWAT team member carrying her and then seeing the baby, I just couldn’t believe that baby was wrapped up in there and not crying,” photographer David Phillip said of the moment Sunday afternoon when his lens found the trio. “It was just tender. It was very special.”
Phillip’s photo shows officer Daryl Hudeck, in baseball cap and fatigues, carrying Catherine Pham and the son she cradled through knee-deep water covering Interstate 610, in southwest Houston.
Phillip said the woman and child were rescued along with the baby’s father from their home in the city’s Meyerland section, where water reached many roofs.
By Monday, the image had quickly become a symbol of the storm and rescue efforts, featured across the web and many front pages.
The Phams, carried to a police staging point at a high spot in the road, were quickly whisked away Sunday, giving Phillip just a minute or two to get their names and witness their relief.
“House is completely flooded, but at least we are all together,” Catherine Pham posted on her Facebook page late Sunday. “We are so thankful that God was looking over us today!”
Soon after the Phams were rescued, Phillip said, he broke away to transmit the photos. It’s a good thing, too. Not long after, a boat he was on hit an object underwater, probably a submerged car, and the photographer was pitched backward into the water. His leg was scraped by the boat’s outboard motor before fire department rescuers could pull him on board. One of his cameras and all the images it contained were lost.
Phillip, who is 51 and has been a photographer for the AP for 22 years, all based in Houston, has covered many hurricanes. But Katrina, Ike and Rita could not prepare him for the one that has swamped his home city.
During Katrina, “I did see a lot of disturbing things, you know, dogs eating bodies and that sort of thing,” he said. “But having this in your home, it’s just kind of a sickening feeling. I just kind of think it’s a bad dream and we’ll all wake up and it will all be gone. But it isn’t going to be any time soon.”
Still, Phillip said, seeing police rescue people like Catherine and Aiden Pham has been a reminder of his city’s endurance.
“There’s moments that will always stick in your head — that one and something that happened a few hours before them, when a sheriff’s deputy had to go and rescue a guy from a flooded car,” he said. “Just the terror on the gentleman’s face who was being rescued and just how dedicated our law enforcement is, just doing what they can to save people.”