NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Sept. 9, 2021) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is supporting a FEMA debris mission in Tennessee in the wake of devastating flash flooding when up to 17 inches of rain fell Aug. 21 in rural areas of Dickson, Hickman, Houston, and Humphreys counties.
Robert Powers, lead debris subject matter expert and construction representative with the Baltimore District, said the team is providing technical assistance and monitoring for FEMA, which involves debris estimation and management, observing recovery efforts, and coordinating between local officials and FEMA.
“We’ve been tracking debris and estimating how much is on the right of way and monitoring how it is removed,” Powers said.
The four-person debris team arrived within days of the high-water event and described the scene as very destructive, with boats and cars strewn along Trace Creek and more than 300 homes damaged and destroyed just in the town of Waverly in Humphreys County.
Powers said the flooding happened quickly and a lot of people lost their lives, and so the debris team is really focused on doing its part to help Tennesseans who lost everything. While the debris team continues to coordinate with FEMA, the level of volunteer support to the community is astounding, he said.
Nearby communities are providing trucks and heavy equipment for debris removal. The Tennessee Department of Transportation, Tennessee National Guard, numerous non-profit agencies, church groups, and volunteers from around the country are collecting and hauling debris to landfills and providing residents with necessities and meals.
Mitchell Green, maintenance worker for Smithville, Longview, and Blue Springs Lakes in the USACE Kansas City District, deployed to provide technical assistance to FEMA. He said it’s like night and day seeing the disaster on the news and then seeing it in person.
“It’s completely different. I want to help the community to help them get up on their feet as quickly as possible,” Green said.
Robert Burick, emergency management specialist with the Louisville District and member of the Corps response team, added that the Corps is serving as the eyes and ears of FEMA in the areas impacted by flooding.
“It gives FEMA an overall idea of how much damage there is, and they can start to develop timetables from there,” Burick said. “So now they can really start to develop a scope of the work, how many additional contractors and help they may need to bring in. FEMA will set the tone and the timetable for the mission.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District’s Emergency Management received the FEMA mission assignment as the affected district to provide debris technical assistance.
Jerry Breznican, Nashville District Emergency Management chief, said the team, which consists of subject matter experts from different Corps of Engineers districts and organizations, began supporting the response effort Aug. 24.
“We are providing support to the state, debris mission, managing taskers, tracking funding, and relaying necessary reports,” Breznican said.
Chad Braun, civil engineer with the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said the team is communicating with mayors, local officials, emergency managers and public works officials, and provides preliminary assessments of the impacted areas. He said the team is visiting affected communities to observe and report to FEMA.
Estimates that the Corps team provides to FEMA help with planning future requirements for debris removal operations. The team also provides guidance for separating construction and demolition debris piles from white goods like appliances that may be recyclable.
“We monitor the debris removal and just support the local community however we can,” Braun said. “I’ve never seen a flood event where it pushed so many houses off of their foundations.”
Powers, Burick, and Braun also supported the debris mission when an EF-3 tornado tracked through Nashville and into Davidson and Wilson Counties in March 2020. They all expressed that they frequently volunteer for these deployments because they desire to help people. The team is currently on a 30-day mission assignment but expect it to be extended.
Powers noted that USACE has created a great working relationship with FEMA Region 4, and he is grateful for the tremendous support from Nashville District Emergency Management.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)