By Ms. Joyce Costello (IMCOM)February 10, 2009
LIVORNO, Italy- When heavy rains hit Pisa, Livorno and Camp Darby, Italy on Feb. 6, at 1:50 an emergency weather watch warning of flooding in Marina di Pisa, Livorno and Pisa was sent out to the base populace so they could be informed of the situation and take protective measures.
Many people living in the affected areas like Michelle Hughes, a military spouse, quickly left Camp Darby in order to get home before underpasses were closed and rising flood waters blocked traffic. Hughes and six other Camp Darby families raced to try to save their possessions in their home from rising flood waters in a Government Leased Housing area in the city center of Livorno.
"My normal 15 minute commute took me over two hours- many roads were closed and I was hydroplaning with my 20-month year old daughter in the car so I was very worried," said Hughes. "When I finally got home, water was gushing into the garage and the downstairs family room was filling up quickly.
She and her family had just moved to Camp Darby from England and had only just received their household goods two weeks earlier.
Fellow military spouse and neighbor who also had recently relocated to Camp Darby in October 2008, Natalie Martinka was at home when the water started filling the yard and recalls her growing concern at the rising waters.
"I remember thinking that the rain was coming down quicker then normal and that it was odd that puddles started covering the sidewalks," said Martinka. "Ten minutes later, copious amounts of water started rapidly streaming into my home.
"It was scary because I could see from the second story window that the water kept coming down the driveway and was filling up my garage and family room. The electricity went off and my parents and I grabbed the baby and the dog and any rugs and antiques that we could and waited upstairs for the water to stop," said Martinka. "I was very grateful that I had put all of our passports, important records and photos in an emergency suitcase stored on the upper levels."
One family came home to find their dog floating on top of his kennel.
Once the news of the damage to service members living quarters reached the base authorities, recovery operations began quickly thanks to the Camp Darby Department of Public Works and the Housing office, according to Lt. Col. Steven Cade, U.S. Army Garrison Livorno commander.
"Because the government leased housing had no electricity, the homes sump pumps would not function and DPW had to find pumps of their own to bring out the housing complex," said Cade.
Housing manager Jay Kelker was on the ground surveying the damage and issuing guidance reference CFMO property and securing lodging on base for the families without electricity while emergency food baskets were put together from the commissary.
"Military Families are not your typical victims in a disaster; they sometimes need assistance beyond their recovery means, but they always take charge, organize, and have a resilience to drive on and get things back to normal as soon as possible," said Cade. "Even though they might be overseas without their extended family for support, they are never alone; they always have their unit members and a chain of command for support."
"We get up and start going again- it's what we military families do," said Martinka, shrugging at the pile of destroyed memories on her front lawn.
The days following the downpour, a flood of people came to the scene to help families haul away trash and debris, file claims and get replacement washing machines and lend a hand where ever was needed.
As U.S. Garrison Livorno Command Sgt. Maj. Felix Rodriguez surveyed the clean-up efforts, he assured residents that "this was a catastrophe no one wanted to see, but we'll do everything we can as quickly as we can to get their homes back up to standard."
Mr. Kelker, added that it's the housing office goal to find a way to get the sludge cleaned, the walls properly dried and repaired so residents don't have to worry about mold.