While 2020 may be remembered as the year when time stood still due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it will also be written in the history books as the most active hurricane season, with a total of 30 named tropical storms in the western Atlantic Ocean.
While much of the southeastern United States saw tropical weather, southern and southwestern Louisiana was the impact zone for two destructive hurricanes, Hurricanes Laura and Delta in late August and early October, that set in motion a series of emergency declarations for hurricane response. The St. Paul District’s temporary housing planning and response team was tapped to deploy to Southwest Louisiana, with the first members arriving at FEMA’s joint field office in Baton Rouge early September. More than 90 district staff deployed in support of the temporary housing mission.
Working with the state and FEMA, early estimates placed the need for temporary housing sites at more than 3,000 in Cameron and Calcasieu parishes. Over the coming months, more than 75 lots in the two most heavily impacted parishes were assessed to determine if they would be suitable for development.
“This hasn’t been our typical temporary housing mission,” Jane Mathison, the Corps’ temporary housing mission manager, said. “FEMA has the lead but we are supporting the group housing mission with on-going site assessments, supplying personnel for two full design teams and at times, are the conduit between FEMA and police jury and parish councils, the Louisiana Department of Transportation-Development, and the Department of Health.”
As part of the temporary housing mission, the Corps builds temporary gravel pads for housing foundations, emergency storm shelters, bus shelters, mailbox units, gravel and asphalt roadways, and installs all utilities. FEMA provides the mobile home units for the communities.
As with all disaster response missions, there are challenges to overcome.
Louisiana’s many parishes have different permitting and zoning requirements and local meetings where requests of this kind take place, are only held once a month.
The state department of transportation requires traffic plans, run-off studies for 10-year, and sometimes 25-year, rainfall events to determine if existing, adjoining roads require upgrades.
Additionally, the Corps was tasked by FEMA to oversee a corresponding monitoring mission which supplies technical monitors to complete the final checks of the travel trailers and mobile home units. These vital checks are completed prior to Louisiana’s displaced hurricane survivors moving into their temporary homes. Typically, these two missions would have been run separately with one distinct management cell overseeing each, but this time, there was only one management cell and reach back help from St. Paul to make it all work.