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Posted 2/26/2018

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By Tom Conning, Public Affairs Office

About 125 Portland District team members have volunteered to deploy in support of disaster relief efforts since August 2017. Most have gone to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist their fellow citizens in the aftermath of hurricanes Maria and Irma. And some of them have deployed twice or extended their deployments because of their dedication to the mission.

Valerie W. Higdon (center)
Portland District program analyst and U.S. Coast Guard Reserve public affairs specialist:

From Aug. 29 – Sept. 6, I responded to Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard to Port Arthur, Texas, one of the places hit by flooding. While on a search and rescue mission, I took photographs of Coast Guard members saving seven dogs that garnered national attention. There were places where I saw houses flooded to their attics and cars completely submerged. We motored over traffic signs, saw coffins emerging from their plots in cemeteries and ducked under power lines. Then, we'd be in places like it had been nothing more than a heavy rain that had passed. Nature does crazy things. I am being deployed, again, to Corpus Christi, Texas, to provide media support on pollution response, which is now being led by Environmental Protection Agency.

Jessica Morales (left)
Portland District project controller:

From Oct. 10 – Nov. 8, I deployed to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands as part of the Blue Roof Mission. The mission was to take applications, measure roofs and provide the people of St. Thomas with a temporary blue tarp for their roofs to prevent more damage to their homes. What surprised me the most was that the people were so happy regardless of their situation. Their roofs had been blown off, their homes were inundated with mold and sometimes you couldn't even drive to a house because there were power lines and transformers along with other debris in the road; however, they were happy. I'm glad I was given the opportunity to go out and help; if asked, I would definitely do it again.

Jacob Watts
Portland District geographer and geographic information systems professional:

From Oct. 12 – Nov. 6, I deployed to the Jacksonville District Recovery Field Office in Tampa, Florida to provide Geographic Information Systems support to the Blue Roof Mission in the wake of Hurricane Irma. I worked to provide geospatial data management, analysis and cartographic production to the Blue Roof Team and all associated operations. The team provides tarps for storm-damaged homes, which limits further damage and allows families to remain in their homes. As time wore on, I realized that mapping the information we were working with on a daily basis could help tell the story of the Blue Roof Mission. I generated time-series animated maps demonstrating the progression of Right of Entry collections, call-center activity and work complete over time. I remained at the field office until the last roof went up, with 13,375 blue roofs installed across 31 counties in Florida.

Tracy Vanhee (right)
Portland District materials handler for the Rogue River Project:

From Oct. 6 – Nov. 27, I could not believe how happy the people of the island of St. Croix were to see us. I was not sure how they would respond ... with happiness for the help ... or with anger over having their island covered with intruders who had arrived uninvited. I found the people of St. Croix to be patient (although they also understandably lost that occasionally), kind (they would patiently wave us back to the right side of the road when we drove on the wrong side) and overall very friendly. So many smiles and 'bless you’s' for being there to help. I was ready for the physical demand of the 12 to 16 hour days, but what I was not ready for was the emotional toll. I literally had people sobbing on my shoulder as were taking Right of Entry applications. Such devastation! The horror of having lost their home and now mold growing, and consuming everything that remained! And sometimes the rain was relentless!

Daniel Rice (right)
Portland District rigger for The Dalles Lock & Dam:

From Oct. 11 – Nov. 8, I deployed to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands as a temporary roofing quality control inspector, where I assessed eligibility, dimensions and materials to be applied to residential homes. Once work was completed on the homes, we inspected the temporary roof applied by the contractor. I found this mission both rewarding and challenging. Of course, the reward came from helping other Americans, especially folks who didn’t have the means to help themselves (families with kids and the elderly). As far as the challenge, the [residential] address system on St. Croix had almost no method due to several eras of land plats. Nothing was sequential and many times you could have 10 residences on one plot. People were very helpful, though, and most people in the neighborhoods knew who you were looking for. Sometimes it was just a matter of getting out of your truck and walking and talking with local people. The opportunity has rejuvenated my gratitude for the things I have in my life, and would go back to help again if the opportunity ever arose.