It began as a tropical depression over the southwest Caribbean Sea; 10 days later, it had affected millions of people living along the Atlantic coast, destroying hundreds of homes and leaving multitudes without power.
Hurricane Sandy was the biggest storm yet of an active tropical storm season. It formed south of Jamaica on Oct. 22, smashed through Cuba Oct. 24-25 and began affecting beaches in Florida by Oct. 26. As it moved further north, concern heighted as it merged with another storm, prior to making landfall near Atlantic City, N.J. Oct. 29.
Jacksonville District engineers were on alert from the beginning. The district activated its emergency operations center (EOC) Oct. 24 and closely monitored the storm as it moved through the Bahamas. Once reports started circulating about the full range of impacts in New York and New Jersey, several Jacksonville District team members were tapped for duties in a variety of locations.
Among those who deployed was Jacksonville District Commander Col. Alan Dodd; he was assigned to the Corps’ Forward Headquarters in New Jersey.
“Our mission was to align support for New Jersey among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Defense,” said Dodd. “It’s inspiring to see so many from the Corps providing critical support to response and recovery efforts that help restore power, remove debris and assess damage to critical infrastructure.”
Jacksonville District Navigation Project Manager Jason Harrah was one of the first to deploy from Florida to the storm-stricken state. He quickly began working a mission to assess the condition of critical public facilities such as fire stations, schools and hospitals.
“There’s a lot of debris and a lot of flooding,” said Harrah. “We’re getting a lot of requests for help.”
As of Nov. 13, the Corps had mobilized nearly 1,000 employees from outside the impacted area to assist with response and recovery activities following the storm. The missions included subway tunnel dewatering, debris management and providing temporary power and temporary housing.
The pumping of water out of the subway had immediate impacts for responders like Jacksonville District Emergency Management Chief Aaron Stormant, who was sent to the area a week after the storm hit.
“I wasn’t sure if I would be able to use the subway,” said Stormant. “As it turned out, the subway I used was operational because the Corps had pumped water out of it.”
At press time, Jacksonville District had about 10 people deployed to the area. However, other people were being assigned to deal with storm impacts in Florida. Beaches along the Atlantic coast took the brunt of Sandy’s punches.
“We saw quite a bit of damage from Brevard to Broward counties,” said Logan Wilkinson, Jacksonville District natural disaster program manager.
Wilkinson and others took to the skies shortly after the storm to conduct aerial assessments of the beach erosion. Enough damage was seen that the district sent notice to local sponsors of hurricane and storm damage reduction projects to solicit applications for potential funding under the PL 84-99 program. If certain conditions are met, this program allows for supplemental federal money to assist with repairs necessary to restore the pre-storm function of the beach project.
Sandy and two prior storms from the summer, Debby and Isaac, have given the emergency management and shore protection programs plenty of work. Seven reports are under draft for beach repairs, while another six reports are in the works for damage to canals. It will likely be several weeks before it is know how much, if any, funding will be available for those projects.
“We anticipate another 10-13 reports will need to be drafted [to address areas] along the east coast [affected by] Sandy,” said Wilkinson.
The recovery efforts from Sandy are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
“We’ve done some impressive things,” said Stormant. “We’ve pumped water out of subways and provided power; we’ve made a real difference. It’s been uplifting. People are tired, but they are persevering.”
“This has a high level of visibility,” said Harrah. “Jacksonville District is on the front lines, making a difference.”