Members of the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville’s Housing Planning and Response team deployed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in September to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency install temporary housing for folks who were displaced following record flooding in August.
Of the 27 employees who deployed, as of Oct. 26, 14 are in Louisiana with two providing reach-back support, according to Jeffrey Davis, Huntsville Center’s deployment coordinator.
The team’s primary purpose was to determine, designate and design sites for temporary housing units, conduct site surveys, complete site inspections, conduct quality assurance inspections upon placement of the temporary housing units, and provide whatever additional assistance is required by FEMA.
“We installed mobile homes to individual sites,” said Darren Mulford, the area resident and contracting officer while in Louisiana. “I was told it was the largest housing mission ever,” Mulford said. “In a lot of instances, we were able to get folks into these homes pretty quickly.”
One day stands out for Mulford, who returned to Huntsville Center Oct. 14.
“I was with the colonel out of Memphis District when we came across a woman and her daughter who were living in a tent,” said Mulford, who is the senior project engineer in Huntsville Center’s Control Management Branch. “Her house had 5-6 feet of water running through it, and it wasn’t near a creek or anything. The entire house was being gutted. She said she found a fish in her car. She was really happy to see us.
“I have been in Afghanistan, but the last four weeks have been more stressful to me that Afghanistan,” Mulford said. “We worked 13-14 hour days. I was happy to come home.”
Clay Weisenberger, an assistant attorney in the Center’s Office of Council, told the story of nearly being bitten by a zebra in a resident’s back yard.
“The zebra was tied up behind the house,” said Weisenberger, who worked as a quality assurance inspector in Louisiana. “I rounded the corner looking along the foundation for a water source and ran smack into it. After the initial surprise, the zebra bared its teeth and snapped at me. I did manage to get my photo taken with it, though. After all, it's not every day you run into a zebra in the bayous of Louisiana.
“The trip was a life-altering experience for me,” said Weisenberger, who returned to Huntsville Oct. 14. “Seeing the devastation to so many lives at nature's whim makes you realize that much of what we fret about in our lives is unimportant.
“Every flood victim we came across had a heartbreaking story to tell, like wading through water for two hours to get to dry land, sleeping in their car for six weeks, losing wedding albums, family heirlooms and material possession they owned,” Weisenberger said. “I'm sure in some way it was therapeutic for them to get it off their chests, and it soon became apparent that our job description included being a shoulder to cry on. To their credit, most of the people are digging themselves out instead of waiting for help to come. It was a wonderful feeling to drive around and see the transition as roadside debris began disappearing and FEMA trailers were popping up in neighborhoods everywhere. While the mission is far from finished, the USACE and the HNC HPRT crews are making a real difference down there. I truly appreciate the opportunity to be a part of it.”
In an email to the team, Huntsville Center Commander Col. John Hurley said, “I have heard nothing but wonderful things about the contributions you have been making to the mission in Louisiana. I know it is not easy or convenient to drop everything in your life and respond to these missions, but rest assured you are making a difference. Please keep up the great work. Stay safe and I hope to speak with you soon.”
The Huntsville team is one of six in the Corps of Engineers trained to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency with temporary housing and/or critical public facilities following a natural disaster, such as the recent flooding in Baton Rouge.