By Les Ozawa and Gustavo BahenaSeptember 6, 2013
Fort Irwin Fire Chief Ray Smith will tell you.
The August 25 flash flood damage that the National Training Center and Fort Irwin experienced was the worst that Smith had seen in his 32 years serving here. The deluge was so bad and unexpected that his department conducted three swift water rescues, here, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Fortunately there were no injuries or fatalities from the monsoon downpour that originated from tropical moisture arriving from the south. The structural damage in garrison and in the 1,200 square miles of training area, however, was severe and assessments are still being performed.
The hardest hit in garrison was Lewis Elementary School, one of three schools under the jurisdiction of Silver Valley Unified School District. Ninety percent of the classrooms were affected by the rain, according to Principal Patricia Baer. The district closed the school and repairs began the next day.
"We had water … 12 to 18 inches in these rooms, and all of the new carpeting at Lewis was destroyed," said the district's superintendent, Dr. Marc Jackson.
Repairs might take up to eight weeks, the district has estimated. The 651 students, who attend the kindergarten to second grade school, will be moved temporarily to Tiefort View Intermediate School and Fort Irwin Middle School, both on post.
The district released a plan to get the young ones back in school while Lewis is being repaired. The plan according to Baer:
Beginning Tuesday, September 10, 2013, the second grade students will begin school again at the Fort Irwin Middle School site. We will be sharing the site but our classrooms will be separated from the middle school students.
Beginning Monday, September 16, 2013, the first grade students will begin school again at the Fort Irwin Middle School site. Again, we will be sharing the campus, but our classrooms will be separated.
Also beginning Monday, September 16, 2013, the Transitional Kindergarten and Kindergarten students will begin school at Tiefort View Intermediate School. The students will be housed in portable classrooms and will be separated from the TVIS students.
"We know this has been a difficult time for all of us," expressed Baer. "The Lewis staff misses the students tremendously. We are looking forward to working with you again to provide an excellent education for the students. Please be flexible during this time as you have been and we will be back at our original Lewis Elementary School as soon as it is completed and safe for our students."
A couple of days after the flooding, leadership and Soldiers of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment began removing and cleaning chairs, desks and salvageable classroom materials from Lewis in preparation for the temporary move. Approximately 160 parents and others also volunteered in the cleanup and removal, making the endeavor a large Fort Irwin community effort. Teachers were present at their classrooms, providing guidance and assisting with the moving and storing.
"Being in the Army and being Soldiers, we have a lot of expertise in reacting to unique situations such as this," said Col. Jon Braga, commander of U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Irwin. "The plan was to look for a new site, a new school. And again, the goal being to get these kids back in school again, as quickly as possible."
Braga explained the significance of the relationship of school staff and servicemembers and how it has been advantageous during the cleanup process.
"There's a direct relationship between the Soldiers on this base and the individual schools, the principals, and teachers," Braga said. "We have teachers linked up with Soldiers and leaders, from across the tenant units at Fort Irwin, and they're personally helping those teachers pick up those classrooms and moving them form [Lewis] and making it almost identical, just in different locations."
Jackson thanked the military and civilian community for their support and leadership.
"From the bottom of my heart, from the board of education, from my staff, I just want to thank you for your support and what you have done for us this week."