Even before Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the East Coast, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials were already making plans to provide assistance to those who would need it most.
It was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, causing severe damage across 24 states, hitting New York and New Jersey especially hard.
The super storm’s 95 mph winds and storm surge wreaked havoc on communities throughout the region, especially those in coastal areas. Saltwater flooded streets, subways and vehicular tunnels. It created major debris issues and knocked out millions of residents’ power.
Not long after Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City in the evening of Oct. 29, nearly 1,000 USACE members, including 11 from Seattle District, deployed to the East Coast and began helping in a variety of ways.
The Corps teamed with federal, state, city and regional agencies to unwater flooded areas, provide temporary power, remove debris and inspect critical facilities.
With so many people working in unfamiliar locations with people they don’t know with limited resources, it can be challenging, said Weber, but they made it work as a team, despite the circumstances.
"We got here shortly after the storm and things were still getting organized," said Doug Weber, Seattle District infrastructure assessment team member. "There were a lot of federal agencies and resources coming into the region, it was pretty chaotic in the beginning."
"We inspected shore protection, storm water outfalls, sewage treatment facilities, ferry terminal, levees and state parks," said Charles Ifft, the USACE IA mission manager and Seattle District team member.
"I’ve really appreciated being here to help the communities and provide assistance where they need it," Weber said. "It’s been rewarding to see how they all pull together and help out and to be part of that response."
"The local fire stations were usually the hub for all the locals and volunteers to meet and coordinate the rebuilding efforts," said Charlie Comer, Seattle District IA team member. "Spouses of emergency services personnel and others in the community were always busy cooking a meal or taking donations to those who lost everything. Grandmothers brought in homemade pies, football teams hauled sand in wheelbarrows—everyone just pitched in and did a part."
In addition to supporting the IA mission, other Seattle District members deployed to help with contracting, public safety and health, general mission support, emergency management operations, mapping, and organizing and managing recovery efforts.
"We are just one piece of all the work the Corps is doing here," said Weber, who returned in December after nearly 30 days deployed. "Several missions are continuing on."
In any disaster, USACE’s top priorities are to support immediate emergency response priorities; sustain lives with critical commodities, temporary emergency power and other needs; and initiate recovery efforts by assessing and restoring critical infrastructure.
"I feel very fortunate that I was able to be a part of the Seattle District IA team because the folks that deployed with me were very dedicated and wanted to do the best job they could for the folks needing help," said Comer. "I don’t think most of (those needing assistance) expected any help from us, so what we were able to do was a bonus for them."