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Posted 12/12/2011

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By Stacy Ouellette
Baltimore District


Disasters make headlines when they happen, but the end of a disaster is much quieter.

Tropical Storm Lee made headlines when it hit the Gulf Coast Sept. 4.  During the next week, the storm’s large size and slow movement dumped heavy rain across much of the nation causing an estimated $1 billion in damage.

By Sept. 8 the tropical storm brought heavy flooding in the Susquehanna River Valley, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assigned a temporary housing mission to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The housing planning and response team (PRT) from Huntsville Center took the mission to support residents rendered homeless by the Susquehanna River flood.

The mission began during the hectic days of early September and ended quietly Nov. 30. 

“Our mission was to provide temporary housing units at two sites, Stony Brook and Country Terrace both in the Bloomsburg, Pa., area,” said Rex McLaury, project resident engineer.  “Both sites required our expertise in creating the infrastructure to support the mobile housing units provided by FEMA.  Basically, we ensured the water, electrical and sewage lines were installed, while FEMA was responsible for the units and resident placement.”

McLaury had six members on hand to support the mission, all project managers from Huntsville Center.  There were two quality assurance specialists at each site and each team member brought an individual expertise.

This particular mission had special meaning to PRT member Sheron Belcher.  Her in-laws’ house was a total loss due to the flooding.  Although they did not inhabit one of the mobile housing units, Belcher said she was proud to help their neighbors and other residents needing a place to call home.

Raul Alonso, electrical engineer and quality assurance inspector, is also no stranger to the personal effect of disasters.  In 1992, USACE removed debris from Alonso’s property in Miami after Hurricane Andrew struck.  He was part of the recovery missions for Hurricane Katrina and supported Alabama after deadly tornados hit earlier this year.

“Deploying is part of being a civil servant,” Alonso said.  “In the office we help the warfighter, and out here we help people.  I get to pay back what the Corps did for me and my family years ago.  It is fulfilling and a humbling experience to help others.”

Current residents were supportive and understanding of minor disruptions due to construction.  McLaury said the collaboration between the PRT, contractors, community and local townships helped the project move smoothly.

When FEMA finishes installing the mobile homes, 40 families will reside at the 20 units at Country Terrace and 21 units at Stony Brook.  In addition, the contractor was a local hire with employees also affected by the flooding.

“All involved truly had a stake in making the projects a success for the families in need of this housing,” McLaury said.  “I know personally that our team was here to make a positive difference and gain new experience, which has been great for all.”