Corps’ District applying blue roofs to help Coast residents with damage|[9/18/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 19, 2005

BILOXI – One of Harrison County’s first blue-plastic roofs was being applied, and a federal inspector said it looked OK, especially considering the crew’s newness to the task.

“It could be stretched a little tighter, but other than that” the plastic sheeting, on the home of Joseph and Eleanor Danhoffer, 108 Shady Court, Long Beach, looked like it would do the job, said Karen Watwood, a quality-assurance supervisor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis District.

Watwood was one of about 400 Corps personnel from around the country working across southern Mississippi last week under the direction of the Vicksburg District.

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The strength of that group, called Task Force Hope Mississippi, was projected to grow to 1,000 people, nearly matching that of the whole Vicksburg District during normal times.

The District’s commander, Col. Anthony Vesay, has established a temporary recovery field office at Keesler Air Force Base. On Tuesday he visited representatives of Carothers Construction of Water Valley and Aduddell Roofing and Construction of Oklahoma City, both companies the Corps has contracted with to perform Operation Blue Roof along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The Danhoffers’ roof had been damaged by wind from Hurricane Katrina, whose center had made landfall Aug. 29 just a few miles west. They continued to live in the home despite its being flooded by about two feet of water, Joseph Danhoffer said.

“We rode it out this time,” said Joseph Danhoffer, adding that the couple’s home was hit by “just a sheet of water blowing north-to-south. It felt like it was about two freight trains out there with their engines running.”

Most other homes on Shady Court had also suffered at least wind damage from the storm and all yards were littered with debris.

“I don’t have any grass to cut for a while,” Danhoffer said, referring to the downed trees and other debris that covered his front yard.

Most other homes on Shady Court had roof damage. Next-door-neighbor Gary Joyner had used tarps to patch his own roof but said he also planned to request a blue roof like the Danhoffers’.

Theirs were among about 23,000 Mississippi homes Aduddell said he estimated in a helicopter fly-over would need blue roofs. He estimated the bulk of those homes could be given blue roofs in 30 to 45 days. People who requested blue roofs were being told to expect action on their requests within about 14 days, down from an initial estimate of 30 days.

“We feel like Harrison (County) exceeded them all,” Aduddell said of his assessment of the greatest need, adding that Jackson was “a pretty strong second” and that significant roof damage could also be seen in Pearl River and Hancock counties among others. For a roof to be eligible for a blue roof it must be salvageable and have sustained damage of less than 50 percent.

By Wednesday the Corps had received requests for about 7,700 roofs and had contracted with 140 crews to repair more than 500 roofs. The Corps had established 19 signup centers, mostly in public buildings such as those normally used for justice courts, city halls, libraries, train depots and even some discount stores.

“Any building where they can get out of the weather and not stand outside in the heat,” Watwood said.

Each temporary-roofing crew is four to seven people, depending on their experience level, and a typical roof can be applied in about an hour and a half, Watwood said. Aduddell said crews, mainly from out-of-state, were working by zip code and that handheld, satellite global-positioning systems were “invaluable” in locating homes that had requested blue roofs.

Vesay, who served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, said areas hit by Katrina had been compared to downtown Baghdad after it had been invaded by a United States-led coalition.

“I’ve seen downtown Baghdad,” Vesay said. “The coast is worse than downtown Baghdad. But every day it gets better.”

As of about a week after the storm the Corps’ Operation Blue Roof in Mississippi had been awarded $75 million in work by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That amounts to about 9 percent of the $814 million FEMA allocated for Corps tasks. The largest part of the total, $325 million, or 40 percent, was for debris removal and debris-contractor mobilization.

Demand for the Corps’ next-largest Mississippi missions, $200 million each in delivering ice and water following the initial damage, was slowing as roofing, temporary housing and debris-removal were being accelerated, said public-affairs officer Frank Worley.

In Jackson County, debris was being taken to a staging area called a “debris-reduction site” at the Sunplex industrial park. Debris taken there was to be ground or compacted and then taken to a landfill for disposal, said the Corps’ manager of Mississippi debris-removal, Costas Zogas of its Portland District.

Zogas, the task force’s resident engineer for Jackson and George counties, said he and 36 others from the Oregon District – specialists in such areas as real-estate, contracting and quality-assurance – were part of his team. About 800 trucks with about 40 to 50 more being deployed each day were being used to carry about 100,000 cubic yards a day of debris to the site, which was one of three other sites in the two counties that were to be established. A line of those trucks waiting to unload debris stretched along two sides of the Sunplex area, about one-half mile, on Tuesday.

The amount of debris FEMA expected would need to be removed in Mississippi “equates to 300 football fields filed 50 feet high,” the Corps said.

“It will take about eight months to remove it from the streets and roughly a year and a half to completely dispose of it,” a news release said.

Also participating in the debris-removal efforts in addition to local authorities were members of the Mississippi National Guard commanded through a Vicksburg headquarters unit, the 168th Engineer Group. That unit was in charge of 834 soldiers including engineer units from Alabama and Tennessee, said the Mississippi Guard’s Lt. Col. Tim Powell. Guard soldiers were deployed before the storm hit and have participated in emergency evacuations and search-and-rescue missions, Powell added. Workers of the Corps’ mat-sinking unit, whose work was interrupted by the storm because their quarterboats were needed for other Corps personnel helping with the recovery effort in Louisiana, were also helping remove debris, Vesay said.

“Other missions include cleaning debris from coastal-area schools, cleaning natural drainage ditches, repairs at Red Cross shelters that were damaged during the storm, sewer assessments, assisting power crews in line-restoration,” Powell said. Guard units will soon also begin cleaning debris from state parks, municipal airports and public parks and picnicking areas along the Gulf Coast, Powell added.

Worley said he and others who normally work at the Vicksburg District offices on Clay Street were among the first to be deployed to the coast. Some spent their first night or two there in a large tent provided by the U.S. Forest Service that was also occupied by personnel of many other agencies, including about 10 Florida state troopers and 20 New York police officers, Worley said.

“You see everybody here,” Worley said of the broad, national participation in the recovery.

Space at Keesler was cleared by rapidly evacuating 2,400 airmen and students there in what has been called “the largest combat airlift conducted on U.S. soil,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Al Bosco said. For the first 48 hours after runways were cleared following the storm about 1,000 people a day were flown from the base, which itself sustained about $500 million in damage, Bosco added.

Others from Vicksburg working at Keesler included Vesay’s top civilian deputy, James Waddle; logistics specialist Linda Cudo and John Trest, who said he was “coordinating several teams of engineers and wastewater specialists assessing the condition of wastewater-treatment plants and offering assistance in bringing them back up to speed.”

“A substantial portion of the coast is starting to get up and running,” Trest said.

Worley and his deputies from other Corps districts have navigated increasing traffic of returning residents and relief workers debris on the coast’s still-limited network of passable roads, much of which lost signage during the storm and still contains stray pieces of debris.

Waddle said he expected the task to take up to about nine months to complete with about 800 or 900 people. The Corps personnel from around the country who were being deployed to the coast were being processed through Vicksburg.

“This is a Vicksburg-centric mission,” Vesay said. “The Corps is forming around us to help support the mission.”

The Vicksburg District is one of six in the Mississippi Valley Division, whose headquarters are also in Vicksburg. FEMA estimates of the total cost of Corps missions in Mississippi and Louisiana as of Sept. 4 was $2.5 billion. Water driven by Katrina breached levees and flooded the New Orleans area. Not including the unwatering of that area, FEMA had tasked the Corps with $1. 5 billion in debris-removal work in Louisiana alone.