Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Submitted and Courtesy of Indiana Task Force One
Three Catastrophic Hurricanes
There have been 13 named storms, seven hurricanes, four major hurricanes and two Category 5 hurricanes, making this an unusually active 2017 Atlantic hurricane season thus far.
On August 24, 2017, Hurricane Harvey attained Category 4 intensity and made landfall near Rockford, Texas. It stalled near the coastline and degraded to a tropical storm before it emerged back over the Gulf of Mexico, making landfall in Louisiana August 29.
Hurricane Harvey was an extremely destructive Atlantic hurricane. In a four-day period, many areas received 40-plus inches of rain as the system stalled over eastern Texas, causing catastrophic flooding. The resulting floods inundated hundreds of thousands of homes, displaced more than 30,000 people and prompted more than 17,000 rescues.
There have been at least 82 confirmed deaths in the United States, and the economic losses are estimated in the billions.
Hurricane Irma was extremely powerful and catastrophic, the strongest observed hurricane in the Atlantic since Wilma in 2005 in terms of maximum sustained winds. It was the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the Leeward Islands, followed by Hurricane Maria only two weeks later. It was also the most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike the U.S. since Katrina in 2005 and the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005. Irma caused widespread and catastrophic damage, particularly in parts of the northeastern Caribbean and the Florida Keys.
The storm re-intensified to Category 4 as it crossed warm waters between Cuba and Florida before making landfall on Cudjoe Key September 10 with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. Irma dropped back to Category 3 by the time it made a second Florida landfall on Marco Island. Irma weakened to a Category 2 hurricane later that day. As of September 19, the hurricane had caused at least 58 deaths in the U.S.
Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on September 20, 2017. It is the third major hurricane in a row to threaten the Leeward Islands with a direct strike or major impacts within two weeks after Hurricane Irma caused catastrophic damage there.
Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico with winds of 155 mph, becoming the strongest to hit the territory since the 1928 San Felipe hurricane as well as the most intense hurricane to hit the territory in recorded history. As of September 22, the hurricane had caused at least 15 deaths in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was left entirely without electric power; its electrical grid was described as having been totally destroyed.
The Deployment of Indiana Task Force One
Over the last several weeks, we have heard the local and national media discuss how a myriad of first responder teams such as US&R (Urban Search and Rescue) Task Forces deployed in the areas of our nation that were affected by the recent hurricanes. FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force is a team of individuals specializing in urban search and rescue, disaster recovery and emergency triage and medicine. The teams are deployed to emergency and disaster sites within six hours of notification. FEMA created the Task Force concept to provide support for large-scale disasters in the U.S. FEMA provides financial, technical and training support for the Task Forces as well as creating and verifying the standards of Task Force personnel and equipment.
There are 28 Task Forces in the U.S., each sponsored by a local agency. In the event of a disaster in the U.S., the nearest three Task Forces will be activated and sent to the site of the disaster. If the situation is large enough, additional teams will be activated, like in the cases of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Indiana Task Force 1 (IN-TF1) maintains the highest level of preparedness for rapid and efficient response with an all-hazards search and rescue approach to large-scale, complex incidents within the U.S. IN-TF1 works collaboratively with local, state and federal agencies to ensure that its members are highly trained and sufficiently prepared for natural and manmade disasters. Its team is made of firefighters from Marion County and its surrounding counties, including the Carmel Fire Department (CFD).
Capt. Kurt Weddington with CFD was deployed along with his fellow IN-TF1 MRP (Mission Ready Package) team members to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Our initial response was to go to the Katy/Houston area, and while enroot, that changed, which typically happens,” Weddington explained. “We needed to be staged a little further out because Katy, a suburb of Houston, didn’t have any infrastructure built up that we could set up a base at with all of our supplies. When several of the FEMA US&R teams start arriving, it looks like a semi yard with 50-60 semi- trucks parked there, full of supplies.”
The IN-TF1 MRP team was sent to San Antonio, Texas, where it wasn’t affected by the rising flood waters. They had driven 23 hours straight by changing drivers along the way. “We have two drivers for every vehicle, so we switch on and off,” he said. “When you’re on a deployment, you are exempt from all of the DOT driving rules. I happen to have a CDL, so I usually drive one of the bigger trucks on a deployment. Our MRP consisted of 14 people and six boats. We were set up for boat rescue. Of the 14 people, two were medical personnel whose primary job was to take care of us. We had 11 rescue specialists and one logistics person who was in charge of the equipment and the trucks.”
Following their arrival, Weddington said that multiple other Task Forces arrived from around the country. The IN-TF1 MRP team received an order to head over to Katy along with four to six other Task Forces. It was approximately 200 miles from San Antonio.
“We made it over to Katy, and then we were told that we needed to go to the Kingswood area, which is another area outside of Houston,” Weddington said. “To get from Katy to Kingswood, you usually travel Interstate 10 (I-10). We couldn’t take that because it was under water.”
Weddington said they had to detour out and around the area about 60-70 miles traveling highways and interstates, some that had water on them, and would have to continuously detour around the ones that were impassible.
The IN-FT1 MRP team eventually made their way back to Katy where base had been established, and there the team refueled their trucks, cleaned their equipment and replenished their supplies before being called to Beaumont, Texas, in Jeffersonville County, 80-90 miles east of Houston on the Gulf.
“We took three Task Forces, Nevada, California and us,” he said. “We drove through, county after county, usually picking up a local sheriff to aid us in getting around. We had to detour off of I-10 three to four more times and detour around a chemical plant that had an explosion and created a toxic plume that we couldn’t drive close to. What would normally take about an hour and 20 minutes took four hours to get to Beaumont.”
The Task Forces arrived at an airfield that was operating a base and where the Task Force team from Colorado had already been working 30-plus hours.
“We stepped in and began processing the people that were being brought to the airport from surrounding areas as the flood waters were rising. People were brought in on Black Hawk helicopters from the National Guard units that were making rescues. Others were being brought in on buses from local shelters that had come underwater. Military Airframes were flying people out to shelters, three to four at a time every hour. Medical helicopters were flying people from the area hospitals and nursing homes to Dallas and areas that were not affected by the flood waters.
“I believe that we processed between 1,000-2,000 people a day,” Weddington stated. “I can’t tell you how many buses there were. They just kept bringing people in. Some carried their possessions in garbage bags. Some had a pet with them. That went on for three to four days at the airport.”
The IN-TF1 MRP team, along with two other Task Forces, conducted a secondary search throughout all of Jeffersonville County. “We spent the next couple of days searching one-third of the county while the other Task Forces searched in the other areas of the county. We did a systematic grid search, looking at every building as we searched.”
Relief Efforts Back Home
In the wake of all three hurricanes, efforts were already underway back home in Hamilton County. A collaboration of organizations, such as the Salvation Army Indiana Division, Midwest Food Bank and the Good Samaritan Network (GSN), have actively been collecting and sending supplies to the areas hardest hit by the hurricanes.
John Whitaker, executive director of Midwest Food Bank Indianapolis, spoke about why the collection efforts remain ongoing, weeks after the storms, and why the local communities need to keep assisting with canned food items and other specific supplies that are listed on his organization’s website.
“We got a call from the Salvation Army saying that the weather report looked promising, that it would be a signature event and that we would see major damage and flooding in Texas,” Whitaker recalled. “We needed to mobilize with disaster relief right away. We sent relief to the Salvation Army warehouse in Dallas prior to the event.
“We deal with disaster every day and with people who don’t have food, clothing or shelter. Once we get the call from the Salvation Army, we are required within 24 hours to have what they required onsite. In the 10 years that I’ve been doing this, we’ve never had back-to-back events like these. Our response will be a prolonged response. We will need food boxes and cleaning supplies donated for the rest of this year and will into the next. We are seeing thousands of people in shelters because they simply didn’t have a home to come back to.”
Major Beth Petrie, the divisional secretary of the Salvation Army Indiana Division, also weighed in on the long-term effects that these storms will have on the victims of the storms and on the local agencies that are on the frontlines assisting with the relief and rebuilding efforts.
“When a disaster hits, the Salvation Army is already there,” she said. “We have a presence in virtually every zip code in the country. In cases such as these where we had lead time to prepare, we staged responses right there on the scenes. We had emergency response vehicles placed strategically and water and food supplies placed strategically. We had volunteers ready on standby, ready to respond locally. These weren’t typical hurricanes. In the case of Texas, entire neighborhoods are going to have to be rebuilt. This is a really widespread and long-term event. The Salvation Army was already there, and we will continue to be there.”
How You Can Help
For the next few weeks, our local Carmel Fire Department and all of its stations will serve as collection points for the Good Samaritan Network’s “Hurricane Relief” effort. This effort is a collaboration of resources by GSN, CFD, Midwest Food Bank, Salvation Army, the city of Carmel and Carmel Monthly to raise awareness of the continued needs of our fellow Americans who are rebuilding their homes and their lives in the wakes of these historical storms. FEMA is handling bottled water, so we are not collecting water at this time. Drop off is available seven days a week at any of your neighborhood fire stations. For a complete list of items needed, see the information box included in this story.
Nancy Chance, founder of GSN, emphasized that as the weeks and months go by, the need to continue to collect food and supplies for our
fellow Americans as well as maintain our local food pantries for our local Hoosiers going into the winter months will be critical as resources are being spread thin throughout the entire country. Donating a can for the southern states and a can for our own state will go a long way if we can keep the momentum.
“The Midwest Food Bank supplies many of the items that the Salvation Army needs in big disasters,” Chance reiterated. “Look at how many people are involved in these disasters. We have had three major hurricanes this season. Private organizations and people need to be contributing to the food banks, like Midwest and Gleaners.”
Chief David Haboush, Carmel Fire Department offered a few words about the collaboration of organizations working together to assist in the massive relief efforts that are going on nationwide.
“Knowing that the city of Carmel, the Carmel Fire Department, and our firefighters can be part of the recovery efforts, even though we’re 1,000 miles away, is really gratifying,” Haboush expressed. “Obviously, our job is to take care of business here and keep our community safe, so 165 of us can’t all leave Carmel to help with the efforts, but to know that there are opportunities for us to be a part of is, again, gratifying. I know that Carmel is a very generous community with all of our resources. For me, when you see the devastation on the television, it doesn’t really sink in, but when I hear the stories, especially of the firefighters who lost everything that they’ve worked for in these storms, it really does become more real.”
Carley Comeriato, a native of Naples, Florida, who now lives locally shared her family’s tale of survival. She also shared what it means to families like hers and to the people that we know who live and own homes in those areas to know that their friends and families up north are sending support their way.
“I was born and raised in Naples,” Comeriato said. “That has been ‘home’ for 27 years. My parents, younger brother, younger sister and I have been through hurricanes growing up there, but nothing like this one. The preparations for it and the recovery time afterward is something that my family has never seen firsthand. My mother is a pediatric nurse and part of the community’s relief team, so she was required to stay and not evacuate. My family chose to stay with her but moved closer inland by the hospital where my aunt has a home in Naples.
“Knowing that they were there and that there was nothing I could do for them at that time was the scariest and most unnerving time. You cannot imagine the wave of relief when I got the phone call that they were all okay. In the days and weeks after the storm, the community continues to exhibit an overwhelming amount of teamwork and coming together to help each other. I know that it means a great deal to all of the people affected that people from Indiana and from all over continue to donate, volunteer and assist where they can.”
WHAT YOU CAN DONATE
To offset the cost of food for the boxes and fuel to deliver them, donations may be sent to Midwest Food Bank, 6450 S. Belmont Avenue Indianapolis, IN 46217.
If you would like to donate cleaning supplies, please bring any of these items to your nearest Carmel Fire Department:
• Pressure washers (2000 psi or above, gas powered)
• 5000-7000 KW Generators
• High volume commercial fans
• Portable sump/water pumps & garden hoses
• 10-gallon Shop Vacs (4-6 1/2 hp, 10-16 gallon, option to use a bag)
• Utility & mop buckets & mops
• Standard and contractor brooms & long-handled scrapers
• Flat shovels, squeegees & industrial scrub brushes
• Gloves (rubber coated/string knit and rubber gloves)
• Mold resistant disposable respirator mask
• Shop towels/rags in a box & sponges
• All-purpose cleaners (equivalent to 409)
• Putty knives & large garbage bags
• Large garbage bags
FOOD (NO WATER PLEASE. FEMA HAS WATER DONATIONS
If you would like to donate food, please bring any of these items to your nearest Carmel Fire Department: Note: No glass jars, please.
• Canned soup, vegetables, fruit, pasta, & tuna
• Peanut butter, breakfast cereal
• Mac ‘n’ cheese, Ramen noodles, bagged pasta, spaghetti sauce
• Toilet paper, paper towels
Contact & Fire Stations Information
Steven A. Couts Fire Headquarters
2 Civic Square
Carmel, IN 46032
3610 W. 106th St.
Carmel, IN 46032
3242 E 106th St.
Carmel, IN 46033
5032 E Main St
Carmel, IN 46033
Douglas Callahan Fire
10701 N. College Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46280
540 W. 136th St.
Carmel, IN 46032