FL, AL Learned From Past Hurricanes

Mon March 13, 2006 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle

Last in a series

While the brunt of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath was placed elsewhere, Alabama and Florida are also recovering from damage from Ivan, Rita and Wilma.

Six months after Hurricane Katrina, Alabama and Florida are still working to recover and rebuild.

Both states are continuing to direct their efforts toward recovering from hurricane damage sustained in Katrina and previous storms. For Alabama, it was Ivan and Rita. For Florida, it was Hurricane Wilma.

Various pieces of federal legislation, including a $29 billion appropriations bill passed in December, are helping hurricane ravaged states.

A breakdown on all the federal funds directed to both states was unavailable.

“It’s a big mess, because no one can really tell where Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Rita stopped and Hurricane Katrina began,” said Jay Reed, vice president of the Associated Builders and Contractors in Alabama.

A shortage of construction labor is a problem for both states.

“There are critical workforce shortages with 1,000 workers needed for rebuilding,” said Barbara Estes, president, Mid Gulf Chapter Associated Builders and Contractors in Mobile. “We’re still struggling. South Mobile County was hardest hit. Two hundred homes were condemned and have not been rebuilt. ABC members are getting private work from this, but billions in federal dollars for construction has been for debris removal only up to this point, with the exception of condo work re-builds.”

The Alabama ABC has several members working on rebuilding condos.

One is Brasfield & Gorrie in Orange Beach, FL. David Martin, senior project manager, said his company is just getting started in Perdido Key, FL. It involves a project to rebuild approximately 184 condo units damaged by Hurricane Ivan.

“It’s taken over a year to pull the condo association together to determine what they were going to do,” he said.

Martin said the condo association decided they wanted to rebuild and must do so, according to new statewide building codes, passed by Florida legislators in 2005.

Brasfield & Gorrie is involved in another condo project in Alabama, which should begin soon. “That’s from Ivan as well,” Martin said.

Florida, also, is experiencing a shortage of construction labor. To deal with the problem, the state unveiled an initiative in December called “Florida Rebuilds.”

“There are close to 2,000 people in the database. They are either in a class or waiting to get in a class. We feel like it is really helping out. We’ve out enough work out there for hurricane recovery that is competing in a sense against a booming commercial and housing market. This is intended to increase the pool for recovery and new construction,” said Warren May, a spokesman for Workforce Innovation, which is helping coordinate the initiative.

Florida Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings said, “Even before the hurricanes caused significant property damage in our state, we were experiencing a shortage of workers in the construction field.

“The continued recovery from the last two hurricane seasons and the continued expansion of Florida’s booming economy depends upon having an adequate supply of skilled trade workers to meet the demand. In meeting that demand, we are also creating employment opportunities for many Floridians whose jobs have been affected by the hurricanes.”

Infrastructure damage was serious in both states from Katrina, but Florida’s major road damage came from Wilma.

“Our most significant damage was to the Cochrane Bridge and to a ramp connecting U.S. 98 to I-10. We had some damage on state routes in Baldwin and Mobile counties, but all of that was repaired by state forces with some help from outside forces hired under emergency contracts. All of our state and U.S. routes were open within 24 hours of landfall,” said Tony Harris, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Harris said during Hurricane Katrina, the bridge was struck by an oil platform anchored on a dry-dock barge at a shipyard in Mobile Bay.

“It suffered damage and was closed briefly, while ALDOT bridge inspectors determined it could reopen under one land of traffic in each direction,” added Harris.

A $1.7 million repair contract was awarded to Brasfield and Gorrie and repairs have now been completed.

“The U.S. 98 ramp to I-10 was our other most significant damage. This ramp remained closed until late last year when a repair contract was awarded to McInnis LLC for $1.1 million. This work will take until fall,” Harris said.

Harris said there was extensive sign and signal damage throughout southwest Alabama inland from the Mobile area.

“We presently estimate our repair and recovery costs at about $20 million. We do not expect any FEMA money, but we do expect over time to recover some of these costs through the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief fund. The bulk of our costs came from cleanup and debris removal. We had a lot of displaced sand along coastal areas of Mobile and Baldwin counties,” he added.

According to Harris, “we have gone into hurricane season well prepared since 2000, which was the first year Alabama had a lane reversal plan ready for implantation, if necessary.

“We have implemented that plan in 2004 and 2005. Our preparedness has transcended into our response and recovery efforts and we have been able to get our transportation network back up and running very efficiently following Ivan, Dennis and Katrina. But we know we have been lucky compared to our sister states to the west, who are still hurting and working hard to recover. And with another hurricane season just a few months away, we know no one is immune to the threat of a direct hit so we’re doing everything we can to be prepared.”

Repairing Florida’s damaged major roads and bridges after each hurricane has also been critical to the state.

Tait Martin, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said not all contracts have been let for road projects. But, he added, all major roads and bridges have been repaired.

“Our experiences with the hurricanes of 2004 and rebuilding the I-10 bridges in Pensacola gave us valuable knowledge in road and bridge repair,” said Frank Day, Florida Department of Transportation Emergency Management Coordinator. “While the 2005 hurricane season came nowhere close to the previous year in road and bridge damage in Florida, we still had a substantial amount. I credit the entire emergency management community in the immediate response to the state’s transportation needs. We have learned in Florida that to move the necessary goods and recovery aids, the roads have to be passable. We are aggressive when it comes to opening travel lanes after storms. We don’t wait. We don’t stand around and assess — we do.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had a mission from FEMA to aid in debris removal.

Patrick Robbins, a spokesman for the Corps in Mobile, said his district had “a debris removal mission in Mobile and two others in Alabama. We were also responsible for navigation features, ports and waterways along the coast.”

In Alabama, Phillips & Jordan Inc., which specializes in disaster recovery, had the contract to handle debris removal for the Corps.

Statewide, 3.3 million cu. yds. of storm-related debris has been removed.

As of Feb. 22, federal officials announced disaster aid to Alabama following Katrina has topped almost $590 million in assistance.

“The recovery and rebuilding process will continue with the repair and replacement of homes, private property and infrastructure,” said Michael Bolch, federal coordinating officer. “Now we have moved into a new phase with regard to the Katrina housing effort. We will continue to assist evacuees as they transition from emergency to longer-term housing.”

Public Assistance approved $108.1 million for infrastructure costs, debris removal, protective measures such as emergency services and law enforcement, road and bridge repair, restoration of public utilities and administrative costs.

The FEMA public assistance grants in Alabama include: $8.5 million to restore Gaillard Island Levee/Berm System. The grant represents a 75 percent federal share of the total project cost of $11.4 million. The remaining 25 percent is from non-federal resources. The repair and restoration is the responsibility of the agency applying for the grant and must be necessary to protect life and property.

Another grant was for $1.6 million in public assistance from FEMA for repairs to the Fairhope Municipal Pier. Officials said the tidal surge generated by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29 caused significant damage to the pier. The $1.6 million grant represents a 75 percent federal share of the total project cost of $2.1 million. The remaining 25 percent is from non-federal sources.

FEMA also awarded $833,0000 to the Dauphin Island Water System. The grant represents a 75 percent federal share of the total project cost of $1.1 million. The remaining 25 percent is from non-federal sources.

High winds, rain and tidal surges from Hurricane Katrina battered the west end of Dauphin Island along a 3.4 mile stretch from Pirate’s Cove to Westward Ho Street. The storm undermined, broke and dislodged the underground water supply system piping and accessories rendering them unserviceable. Wave action and erosion damaged 6-in. and 10-in. PVC mains, 2-in. service lines, hydrants and meters. Equipment was washed away, covered by blowing sand or damaged by heavy construction equipment.

Florida was affected by three hurricanes in late 2005. “The damage inflicted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was determined to be insufficient to merit a federal disaster declaration for individual assistance,” said Dasha Castillo, FEMA public information officer. “Hurricane Wilma affected most of south Florida and 13 counties in the state were included in the federal disaster declaration for individual assistance.”

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced in January Florida will receive $82.9 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund critical recovery needs following a second unprecedented hurricane season.

The Community Development Block Grant disaster relief funds are a portion of the $11.5 billion allocated nationwide by the federal government following destructive Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

“These funds will assist our local governments to rebuild impacted communities and ensure Florida’s health economy continues to grow,” Bush said. CEG

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