A team of more than 70 Iowans, Nebraskans and South Dakotans from the Omaha District of the Army Corps of Engineers has returned from a lengthy hurricane recovery mission in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Most of them spent eight weeks or more offering emergency assistance.
Michael Welch, power plant superintendent at Gavins Point Dam, headed up the “Blue Roof Mission” which helped secure temporary covers of blue tarps atop damaged homes.
“Some houses were absolutely destroyed and the Blue Roof Mission could not be applied to those homes,” Welch says. “I would say the Corps of Engineers’ disaster response to the blue roof people was like the infantry. They’re actually boots on the ground, canvassing neighborhoods, directly talking people to people.”
Welch and his team were initially sent to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he says they saw near total destruction.
“It was also amazing how positive the people were,” he says. “It’s like any natural disaster. People realize it’s the basics of life that are important, that they’re alive and that all of the possessions they had can be replaced and that their family is safe. Those are the things that I’m reminded of when I go on a disaster response.”
Welch says the team members saw signs of recovery as they got ready to leave.
“There were no leaves on any plants when we got there,” he says. “I got to St. Croix on the 24th of September and by the time we were leaving at the end of October, the trees had sprouted leaves and it was turning green again. It was amazing how fast nature can start the recovery process.”
Welch says the Corps will continue to rotate people into the hurricane areas as long as they are needed.
By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton