2nd FEMA deployment – Hurricane Matthew

I’d only been back “home” to Xela for about a week after my deployment to Louisiana but was already following Matthew’s progress across the Atlantic. Many hurricanes start off the coast of Africa and drift over towards the Caribbean and Matthew was doing the same.  It was forecast to be big and hit somewhere along Florida, so long story short, Leslie and I flew into Orlando the day before Matthew hit.

In Louisiana I’d noticed large staging areas in church parking lots for disaster relief like after Katrina, so I told Leslie that if she came with me maybe she could volunteer in disaster relief efforts while I did my FEMA inspections.

After Matthew slowly paralleled the eastern seaboard, I was assigned to work initially in North Carolina and later across the state line into South Carolina. Flooding was still actively happening because heavy rains inland were flooding streams and rivers downriver. Driving up I-95 from Orlando it was awesome seeing so much flooding everywhere, wind damage and massive trees downed everywhere – including blocking the freeway. Crews were furiously cutting back the downed trees opening up the freeway.

We’d crossed into NC and jumped onto I-74 east to check into our field office in Wilmington but as we crested a small hill we saw traffic ahead slowing down and semi-trucks pulling over onto the shoulder.  The sight we saw past the traffic and down a gentle hill was unbelievable. A levee had just broken, flooding the entire countryside below us for miles (including the freeway) under a torrential, fast flowing flood. I wished I’d taken a video! This happened so fast there weren’t any highway patrol officers, barricades, warnings, just the first cars and trucks pulling over, stopping and getting out to look.

Again, long story short, we had to make a 5 hour detour back down into SC and over to the coast before we got to Wilmington. At a local EOC (Emergency Operations Center) we were warned to never travel at night and be extremely cautious driving on state and county roads because of washouts.

Imagine driving along and seemingly the road ahead looks okay, but there’s nothing there to hold it up except the asphalt itself!

After working in NC for about a week or so, I was transferred to Mullins, SC.  Leslie hooked up with the local EOC and was put to work helping to set up a food distribution center.

This center wasn’t open to the public.  Rather, it was the “master” intake center from which donated items would be received, organized and then transferred to the various public community sites.

I was amazed at how significant the flooding was from Matthew.  For a couple of weeks or so I’d traveled this stretch of countryside and been amazed at the high water mark along the woods at the edge of this field.  It was very pronounced immediately after the flood subsided but slowly the vegetation started to green up again.  I wish I’d taken this photo immediately after the water went down, but you can still see how high the flood was in this area (maybe about 20′).

I’d just inspected a 2 story home close to this train bridge and the devastated family said there had never been water as high as the bridge, yet the flood almost reached their roof and was over the train tracks.

Deployments are hard work, physically and emotionally.  Long days, devastated communities and shock and tears as families and I walk into their homes for the first time after the water has receded.

Filed under article topic: Transitions
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