Photographer behind powerful Houston flooding image knew it was special as soon as he took it

Louis DeLuca was drenched. Two of the Dallas Morning News photographer's three lenses had fogged over from the rain and humidity. He stood on a Houston highway Sunday watching boats leave and return with people stranded by the catastrophic flooding. He shot on the only lens he had left, a 200 to 400mm telephoto zoom.

It's not the lens he would like to have used.

But the image he took led the front page of Monday's Dallas Morning News. It has spread across social media. And, for DeLuca, it offers a bit of hope in the middle of a tough story in the middle of a tough news year.

DeLuca grew up in La Porte, a Houston suburb. He knows the roads pretty well. So he and a reporter rented a dark gray Ford Explorer and drove into town on Friday. On Sunday he hoped to travel south, where people were being rescued. The roads made that impossible.

"I've never seen water like this," he said.

DeLuca was able to get onto Highway 59 and took the exit for 610 South. Within two miles, they came to a dead stop in front of massive amounts of water. DeLuca was able to get another quarter of a mile closer, and that's when he saw rescue crews deploying on boats and jet skis.

For the next five hours, that's where he worked.

As Houston floods, this independent journalist is delivering the news to hundreds of thousands of people

When a private citizen offered his boat, another rescue crew took off. Houston SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck came back with Catherine Pham and her son, 13-month-old Aidan. The boat pulled as close to the dry part of the street as it could get, then Hudeck got out and carried the mother and child.

It was one of those photos that, when he took it, DeLuca knew he had something. AP photographer David J. Phillip was there, too, and shot a similar image that made it onto front pages around the country on Monday.

Still, DeLuca has been surprised at the reaction the image has gotten.

"I certainly understand the power of the still image to move people," he said, "and I'm just thankful to have taken one that so many have responded to positively."

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Every week, stories of hate and conflict make the news, he said. In Houston, despite the unimaginable destruction, people are pulling together and helping each other.

Hope resonates, DeLuca said. And the image of a sleeping baby in the arms of his mother, unaware of the person who's carrying her or why, offers a bit of that.

"It's a positive in the middle of a negative," he said, "and I think we can all use that right now."

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