By Tech.Sgt. Phyllis HansonJuly 25, 2008
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas -- For close to a quarter million people, a calm is beginning to settle across the South Texas Rio Grande region after the relentless lashing that Hurricane Dolly doled out.
This calm is due in part by the relief efforts of strike task forces that set out before dawn July 24 to set up points of distribution across 15 counties.
"The unity of effort between the state operations center, the county judges, the disaster district controllers, Texas Military Forces and all the agencies associated with the hurricane relief is really phenomenal," said Air Force Col. John Nichols, Joint Task Force commander, and 149th Fighter Wing commander, normally based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
"We've got 99 percent of the solutions in place. People are being taken care of, roads are being cleared, search and rescue operations are nearly complete," Nichols said. "The points of distribution operations are going full force," he said.
"The other really good thing is that electricity is coming back on so it's causing us to have to set up fewer and fewer distribution points or PODs, as we call them," said the task force commander.
Communicating is always an essential part of any joint operation and according to Army National Guard Sgt. Maj. Marrell Skinner, getting set up with communications anywhere within the affected area is what they do best.
"If there's a need for us, we can set up a communications center anywhere within 40 minutes," explained Skinner, the chief signal NCO with the Texas Army National Guard from Austin. "With Hurricane Dolly, the latest technology will help with search and rescue, assessing damage from multiple locations and keep task force members on the same page."
The first tasks force hit the road before dawn July 24 along the route from the staging area at an HEB (large Texas food chain) Distribution Center in Weslaco, Texas to a POD site at a popular water park on South Padre Island where Hurricane Dolly made her first of many marks.
"I had a good idea I'd be going," said Army Spc. Jeremy Holley, a unit supply specialist with the 4th Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery out of New Braunfels. "Within five hours, we were on the road, headed to our staging are in Weslaco." Holley was a five-ton driver, delivering much needed food and water to the South Padre Island area following Dolly's landfall.
Cruising at an average speed of 45 mph, the strike force edged their way through the flooded towns devastated by Hurricane Dolly. Metal roofs were peeled back like tuna cans. Palm trees were ripped by the roots lay strewn about. Power lines were hacked in half or found lying on the roads.
With no power, no potable water and closed businesses, the task forces were a welcome site. Victims, waste-deep in flood water, gathered floating debris.
"My troops have been working hard to get food, water and ice to those who need it so badly," said 1st Lt. John Degeest, Strike Force 3 commander. "You never want to see devastation, but it has been a great experience for my Soldiers."
The devastation took its toll on numerous towns in the Rio Grande valley, but didn't take the town folks' spirits. "It is great that people are here to help us," said Esmeralda Alaniz, a South Padre resident. "We thought it would be just a tropical storm.
"We weren't as prepared as we should have been. We're just grateful to be all right and help is here," she said. "Our home is a different story. The garage flew away, all of are trees have fallen into the street," said Esmeralda who has lived her entire 37 years of life in the area. "This was the worst I've ever seen."
Despite the destruction of Hurricane Dolly, which swept across the South Texas Rio Grande region, Texas military Forces, local and government agencies will continue to work day and night, officials said, until the citizens of the region are first and foremost, accounted for, all PODS are pushed out and all electrical power is restored.
"We're providing personnel to the support the PODS. Our team is on standby for specialized services such as electricians, heavy equipment operators, air conditioning repair and road clearing," said Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Reid, 149th Maintenance Squadron from the 149th Fighter Wing.
With 75 personnel in place, and possibly more on the way if needed, we are looking forward to supporting the hurricane relief efforts in full force," he said.
"Being here and supporting the relief efforts is great because we have the opportunity to serve the people in the state that we live," said Reid.