By Ms. Brigitte Rox (AMC)September 13, 2017
CORPUS CHRISTI ARMY DEPOT, Texas - For nearly fifty years, anyone with a vested interested in Corpus Christi, Texas has at some point heard (or said) that a major hurricane hitting town was never a question of if. It was always a question of when.
BEFORE THE STORM
Corpus Christi Army Depot command leaders, emergency management office and others met with Naval Air Station Corpus Christi leaders and staff when Harvey entered the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical disturbance the week of Aug. 21.
This is common procedure every hurricane season, and usually, storms develop and go away or go somewhere else. However, it was a risk CCAD would not take.
Harvey was tracked as it grew each day and every hour, receiving regular updates from the warning coordination meteorologist of the National Weather Service office in Corpus Christi.
On Wednesday, the storm was 72 hours off the Texas coast line. The Commander of Navy Region Southeast ordered Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness 4. For CCAD, COR 4 initiates actions to execute a possible shutdown of the depot and evacuation of personnel and aircraft.
The workforce sprang into action: securing buildings and assets, reviewing roles and responsibilities and backing up the digital infrastructure, all while coordinating and accounting for everyone and everything linked to CCAD. Personnel updated their emergency contact information to receive timely AtHoc messages through phone, text or e-mail from the CCAD Security Communications Center.
At 7:35 that evening, when most team members were preparing for the storm at home, the Navy Commander implemented COR 3.
With 48 hours left before Hurricane Harvey's impact, Depot commander, Col. Allan H. Lanceta said the goal was to prepare all areas for the highest level of Hurricane categories and be prepared to shut down all CCAD operations for the safety of all CCAD team members and their families.
The helicopter maintenance facility was closed by 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 24 and remained closed Friday and through the weekend as South Texans evacuated or sheltered in place.
WEATHERING THE STORM
Juan Hernandez was part of CCAD's emergency team that remained on the base to monitor and communicate conditions to the command.
"My part of CCAD isn't production focused," he said, comparing his work to CCAD's main mission of ensuring Army aviation readiness with organic helicopter maintenance and support. "It's more protecting production and learning how to best take a hit from an incident and getting back in the fight."
"I woke up expecting to go home that day, but once the storm moved straight for Corpus, I picked up a few things from the house and braced for it," Hernandez said.
Before sheltering at CCAD, he ensured his family was safely evacuated. "I knew my wife would manage," Hernandez said. "I made reservations for my mother and family. I had to stay. It's what I'm here for."
"I knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate with them here," he added.
As the depot's emergency management program manager, it was a mission he was proud and even a little excited to serve.
"I slept in the Emergency Operations Center Thursday night and slept about three hours. It's hard to sleep when you know a hurricane is coming."
He said Jesus Gomez, Security Division's Plans and Programs Office lead didn't get much sleep in his office either.
As the storm drew near, Hernandez grew nervous. He said the increasingly apparent looks of worry on local meteorologists' faces as the hours passed contributed to the uneasiness.
"I didn't call anyone because I knew they would hear it in my voice if I did," he said. Knowing his family was safe from the storm provided Hernandez comfort, but he could not help but worry about his own safety as a Category 4 hurricane did its worst a few yards between the seawall and his office.
"I was afraid for my life," Hernandez said.
As he pushed through his fear to focus on his mission, he kept saying to himself, "'I was born for the storm, and a calm does not suit me.'" It was a quote from Andrew Jackson and it became his mantra as he recited it to himself to calm his nerves.
He monitored the storm for most of Thursday night from the CCAD Communications Center where security cameras provide real-time coverage of various points throughout the large helicopter maintenance facility. He did not know how long the cameras would last against Harvey's destructive winds.
"I watched the waves punishing the seawall," Hernandez said. "That was pretty dramatic!"
"Mr. Gomez was way too calm. It would have been laughable if it wasn't so serious," Hernandez said, reflecting.
"The base only lost power to a few buildings. IT and Security worked very hard in planning the infrastructure for the camera system."
By Monday, Aug 28, most of the South Texas community was returning home and focusing on recovery, but the evacuation order on base remained in effect for much of the week.
CCAD remained closed the first half of that week, limited to only mission essential personnel.
Dennis Campbell, CCAD Chief of the Army Substance Abuse and Employee Assistance Programs, was one of those mission essential personnel called back on Monday.
He, along with command leaders and select staff, were temporarily staged with the rest of the Emergency Management Office in the EOC while CCAD remained closed.
Depot supervisors called employees in their divisions and offices to ensure their families' safety and to see who in the CCAD family got hit the hardest.
About 40 families were displaced from Hurricane Harvey. They all lived outside the Corpus Christi city limits, living in the Beeville, Refugio, Ingleside, Bayside, Fulton, Woodsboro, Port Aransas, Aransas Pass and Rockport communities.
Every few minutes, Campbell would pick up a phone and reach out to an employee still trying to assess the damage caused in Harvey's wake.
"Col. Lanceta asked me to call you and said you had some pretty significant property damage," Campbell would say at the beginning of each call. "How are you and your family? Can you tell me how things are going? Do you have some place to stay?"
The calls were somber and humbling, and communication was occasionally patchy as hurricane victims tried to reset their lives. Campbell spoke with a person who was in tears when he said that CCAD was working with the Navy to get them temporary housing and assistance.
Campbell and his staff extended this offer to every displaced CCAD employee then followed up with individual families to get them back on their feet.
Col. Lanceta made it clear that his number one concern remained the safety and well-being of the CCAD team and their families long after the evacuation and hurricane.
Once it was safe to return to Corpus Christi, the commander gave the team additional time to focus on their homecoming and recovery efforts at home.
"We chose not to have anyone else other than leadership come in and begin recovery and cleanup operations in the depot," he explained.
Most of the workforce was back at work by Thursday, Aug. 31. By that time, most of the 154 acres of external clean-up was completed by work leaders and maintenance teams. Employees returned to a cleaner and safer work environment and got straight to restoring CCAD's full operational capability.
"The prep we did saved aircraft," the commander said about their readiness operations before the storm. CCAD did not lose any aircraft to Harvey, although the hurricane destroyed two clamshell structures that had housed aircraft before the storm.
"Can you imagine if we had not moved what was inside?"
The depot's newer infrastructure, the Dynamic Component Repair Facility, "did exactly what it was designed to do," Col. Lanceta said. It withstood Harvey with no real damage.
"Our efforts here at CCAD were being reported to the Chief of Staff of the Army," Col. Lanceta said. "Throughout the whole Army everyone was focused on assisting CCAD."
Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Gabram, Commanding General of the US Army Aviation and Missile Command, visited the depot to see how recovery efforts were going on Sep. 6.
"Everyone was watching the news," Gabram said on his visit. "We were lucky."
The depot continues to recover after Hurricane Harvey, the entire team works towards the common goal of remaining resilient and ready for the Nation.
HURRICANES IN SOUTH TEXAS
The National Weather Service lists Hurricane Harvey as the first major hurricane to strike South Texas since Celia in 1970 and as the first hurricane to strike the Texas coast since Ike in 2008.
South Texas avoided a direct hit from a major hurricane for nearly fifty years when Hurricane Celia, a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, devastated Corpus Christi on Aug. 3, 1970. Forty-seven years later, half of us were not even born when Celia occurred, but those that were here may notice some similarities.
The Weather Channel recorded Harvey as a major hurricane with sustained winds of 130 mph when it made landfall near Rockport, the hardest hit community, on Aug. 25. This is not too far off from Celia when it quickly intensified into a hurricane within hours of entering the Gulf of Mexico. It also made landfall in Port Aransas just north of Corpus Christi with sustained winds of 130 mph.