News Stories

Wilmington District responders help battered Florida during Hurricane Michael recovery

Published Dec. 21, 2018

   Less than a month after Hurricane Florence devastated southeastern North Carolina and beyond, Hurricane Michael became the strongest storm on record in the Florida Panhandle with wind speeds of 155 mph when it made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida on October 10.  It was the fourth-strongest hurricane to make landfall in terms of wind speed in the contiguous United States.

   Several Wilmington District employees answered the call to deploy to help during recovery operations.  W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir Ranger Johnny Jones deployed to Panama City Beach, Florida as a quality assurance representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Temporary Roofing mission.  He volunteered because he wanted to assist those in need by providing a way for them to live in their houses until they could get permanent repairs to their roofs.  When he deployed to the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) in October of 2017 he saw that many of those who were impacted by Hurricane Maria did not have insurance, funds, materials, or labor for roof repairs.

   “The Blue Roof mission in the USVI for many was their only solution and permanent fix,” Jones said.  “That was not the situation with many of those impacted by Hurricane Michael in Florida. Most of the individuals I talked to had insurance or funds to make repairs to their roofs. Also, many had relatives, neighbors, and friends who came to their assistance and provided the materials and labor to fix their roofs.”

   Michelle Conway deployed as an administrative assistant to the Recovery Field Office (RFO) in Destin, Florida.  She saw the direct effects of Hurricane Florence after returning to Wilmington from her deployment to Charlotte with the District’s Crisis Action Team (CAT).  However, she was ready to head to Florida after Hurricane Michael struck weeks later.  

   “My husband and I were very lucky.  Our subdivision sustained a lot of flood damage,” she said.  “It's a little eerie when you're watching the Weather Channel in Charlotte, and Jim Cantore pops up on the TV screen standing on your street.  My heart sank.  We had a tree come down, but luckily missed our house.  It's just me and my husband at home, so it wasn't hard to leave.  I missed him, but he knew I was working to help people in need and he's good with that.  I have to say he's very supportive.”

   Conway, a veteran of numerous deployments to include the USVI, is part of a small group of USACE employees who regularly step up to the plate to volunteer for hurricane duty.

   “I deployed to Florida because I enjoy helping people and I like to meet new people.  It was great to see new faces and faces that I have deployed with before,” she said.  

   Emergency Management Specialist Lisa Landis deployed to support the Jacksonville District’s Emergency Management team that was forward deployed to establish the RFO in Destin.  While she’s used to being outdoors during hurricane recovery performing more hands-on type duties, this deployment was different because she worked at the District headquarters. 

   “It was not as fast-paced, but afforded me the opportunity to meet many Jacksonville employees who also support from the District level,” Landis explained.  “Seeing how our sister Districts operate and collaborating is beneficial to us all.  I shared my previous knowledge with Jacksonville and brought back useful ideas and processes for the Wilmington District.” 

   Landis, too, dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington.  As the District’s Family Readiness Coordinator, she helped launch a gift card drive and collect furniture and house ware items for Wilmington District employees who were impacted by the hurricane.  She was spurred on to help even more in Florida by family members and close friends who were victims of Hurricane Florence. 

   “A member of my own family and several close friends endured the wrath of Florence, losing their homes, like many of our District employees, and I just couldn't sit idle,” she said.  “The work is far from over. So many people have suffered from the relentless barrage of disasters this year. My faith in the goodness of humanity is restored when I can be not only a part of the important response mission work, but when I can pour my heart into the recovery part of these destructive disasters.”