A teenage girl is claiming Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, saved hers and her family’s lives during Hurricane Harvey. 14-year-old Tyler Frank was at her home with her mother and three brothers on August 27, when they noticed their home was filled with water.
Tyler told CNN they attempted to call the 911, but they couldn’t reach the emergency response service. She tried to look for help using her Instagram and Facebook accounts but failed.
Then, the high-school student figured they could ask Siri for help, and two days after contacting the iPhone virtual assistant, the family was finally rescued.
Siri was ‘smart enough’ to help distressed family during Harvey
Tyler suffers from a genetic disorder known as sickle cell anemia. When the family was locked down because of the flood that hit their city, she suffered a sickle cell crisis, which caused her body’s red blood cells to clog up her blood vessels, preventing oxygen from reaching parts of her body.
The National Institutes of Health says the pain of a sickle cell crisis can be worse than the pain of childbirth. So when Harvey wreaked havoc in their community, Tyler and her family knew they had to get out of there as soon as possible. After the failed attempts to reach 911, Tyler thought of another “person” who could help them – Siri.
“I was like, ‘Siri’s smart enough! Let me ask her!’” Tyler told CNN. She then picked up the phone and told Siri, “Siri, call the Coast Guard.”
The teenager was in pain from her sickle cell episode, which was probably caused by the cold weather. Trauma or exposure to cold can trigger a sickle cell crisis, according to Dr. Titilope Fasipe, Tyler’s hematologist at the Texas Children’s Hospital.
The family says during the early morning hours of August 27, they were all woken up by the water that rushed into their home, which filled the house up to Tyler’s chest. They recall that soon afterward the water almost reached her head.
The girl’s 18-year-old brother, Joseph, carried Tyler on his back to the roof. Her next oldest brother, 16-year-old Brayland, carried their youngest brother, 8-year-old Jaquarus, on his back. The cold hit them immediately, with Tyler only having a tower to cover herself. They say the towel got wet soon afterward.
Tyler spent two days waiting to be rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter
Shivering on the roof with her family, Tyler thought of asking Siri to get them the Coast Guard number. Siri complied, and Tyler called the Coast Guard immediately. She told the man who answered they needed help and gave him their location, adding that she was sick and scared for her life. She says the man said she was a brave “guy.”
“I was like, ‘I’m a girl!’ And he was like, ‘oh, you’re one brave girl.’ And I was like, ‘thank you!’” Tyler recalled days later.
A Coast Guard helicopter arrived the next day, in the afternoon. Tameko Frank, Tyler, and her brother’s mother recorded the scene on Facebook Live. Frank says one of the rescuers got out of the helicopter and talked to her, asking her whether anyone was sick. She said yes, as Tyler had a 103-degree fever at that point, and noted her daughter had sickle cell and was very ill.
However, the rescuer told Frank he was taking only older adults, and that they would come back for the others later.
“She was standing right in front of him,” Frank told CNN. “And he turned around and got on the helicopter and left.”
Tyler says she felt abandoned when the helicopter went away and said it made her cry. The Coast Guard told CNN in a statement that first responders were faced with “an overwhelming request for assistance due to Hurricane Harvey,” adding that rescue crews made decisions based upon new factors (such as life-threatening situations) and the conditions faced on the scene.
Tyler’s family lost their home and belongings during the flood
Tyler called the Coast Guard again. Finally, the morning after a helicopter landed and carried Tyler out of the scene. Her mother recorded it on Facebook Live again. She was taken to a doctor in Pasadena, Texas, and then sent to Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston.
From there, an ambulance took her to Texas Children’s Hospital, where the straight-A ninth-grader at Forest Brook High School has been treated ever since she was diagnosed as a baby. Fasipe said Tyler’s resilience was remarkable, as she withstood two days in the rain and two helicopter rides while being severely sick.
“She’s got this great sense of humor,” said Fasipe. “She just made us laugh. It’s so impressive what she and her family dealt with. I don’t think most of us can even imagine.”
Tyler and her family lost everything when Hurricane Harvey passed through Texas. They are currently sharing a room at a Super 8 hotel off a Houston highway, using clothes that were donated to them.