On April 27th, a massive storm system with more than 50 tornadoes tore through the southeast United States devastating parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia. As a result of the storm damage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) tasked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide support to Alabama. There have been as many as 300 Corps personnel from all over the country deployed to Alabama to help with recovery efforts.
When the Charleston District heard of the situation in Alabama, they stepped up to help out by deploying several employees to help with quality assurance (QA), safety, temporary housing and external affairs duties.
“The Mobile District, which falls under the South Atlantic Division along with the Charleston District, is our sister district and we felt the need to lend a hand when their immediate area of responsibility was hit,” Maj. Kevin Wissel, deputy district commander said. “I am proud that we have sent so many people to assist with these tasks and know they are doing a great job representing the Charleston District.”
The Corps was tasked by FEMA with three missions in this disaster: debris removal, temporary housing and temporary construction of critical public facilities.
The debris removal process consists of construction and demolition (C&D), which is the process of cleaning up shingles, siding, etc. as the result of destroyed buildings, as well as vegetative debris of trees, stumps, brush, etc. Vegetative debris is either taken to a burn pit or is ground and recycled for various uses. C&D is taken to a designated landfill where it is crushed and covered with dirt. It is estimated that the Corps will remove 4.3 million cubic yards of debris by the time this mission is completed.
Debris removal is the main mission that the Corps has been tasked to complete. Adam Collias, logistics specialist, started his deployment assisting the recovery efforts as a QA manager. After a truck picks up the debris, either C&D or vegetative, they take it to their appropriate drop off site for disposal. A truck is paid by the cubic yard in each load. A QA manager makes certain that the truck is dropping off as much debris as they claim to be and they ensure that the truck is empty after they dump so that they don’t get paid twice for the same load.
After two weeks as a QA manager, Collias was moved to a segregation crew. Here, he oversaw the crew that separates debris that could potentially contain asbestos material. Items that might have asbestos have to be disposed of differently than C&D and vegetation debris; it must be wetted, bagged and taken to a landfill that accepts asbestos material.
“Having the opportunity to help those that have been affected by the tornadoes is very important to me,” said Collias. “I am glad I have been able to move around in different jobs and gotten to experience a lot while here.”
The Corps was tasked to provide temporary housing, in the form of “haul and install” trailers, to people living in unsuitable housing situations, due to their home being completely demolished by the storm. The trailer comes with everything a family could need: mattresses, linens, plates, utensils, cooking ware, etc. The Corps will provide approximately 218 temporary housing units and, so far, 185 families have already moved in.
As a supervisor in the temporary housing mission, Charlie Crosby, chief of the regulatory division’s south branch, oversees the installations of haul and install trailers in Phil Campbell, AL. After the contractor brings the trailers, Crosby inspects them to make sure that the water, power and utilities are properly working. So far Crosby has overseen the installation of five temporary houses and plans to oversee anywhere from 10 to 20 more prior to his departure.
“Providing temporary housing to families who lost everything in the tornadoes has been very fulfilling work,” said Crosby. “It brings me great joy to know that I have helped those in need after a situation like this.”
If a police station, fire department or other public facility is destroyed due to a natural disaster, the Corps provides a temporary structure for the critical public servants to move into while they rebuild their station. The Corps provided seven temporary replacements for critical public facilities during this mission.
Along with the three main missions, Charleston District is also helping with more specialized duties.
John Lindsay, safety officer, deployed to Alabama in mid-May to ensure the safety of the Corps employees and contractors. Since safety is the Corps’ number one priority, there are several Corps safety personnel stationed around the state. Lindsay is based out of Tuscaloosa, but travels around to different parts of the state.
“I travel to the different sites, whether it’s the C&D drop off site or a burn pit, to ensure that all our employees are wearing their proper safety gear and are using all the safety precautions they should be,” said Lindsay. “So far we haven’t had any accidents. It’s important that we send everyone home in the same condition they arrived in.”
Getting the story out through external affairs is an integral component to a crisis, so that the public and media know when, where and how things are happening. Sara Corbett, public affairs specialist, deployed to Alabama to assist with this crucial task. While there, she worked with media and the public from across the state to keep them updated on debris removal and address any concerns, such as asbestos removal and the burning ban that was in effect during the debris clean up.
It is important to keep the public informed during a crisis situation as the people affected by the tornadoes have suffered devastating losses and need to know when debris removal will be done in their area or when they can expect temporary housing, so they can start putting their lives back together.
The Charleston District is proud to have helped the state of Alabama during this difficult time.