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Tidal Basin Interviews Phil White of USACE on their Housing Missions from Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Louisiana and Shares Key Highlights from the Puerto Rico STEP Program

Hurricane Laura devastated areas of Lake Charles, Louisiana in late August with sustained winds over 130 miles per hour at landfall. The storm’s eye passed near Cameron, Louisiana as a category 4 hurricane bringing intense wind and storm surge flooding into the Lake Charles area. To support the recovery efforts, FEMA issued a mission to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to implement the Corps’ Blue Roof Mission. According to the USACE, they “assist local and state requests for support in coordination with FEMA, providing temporary blue plastic roofs to residences to prevent additional damage after a windstorm." The capabilities extend from technical expertise and assistance through complete management of a Temporary Roofing Mission including the scoping, procurement, and installation of temporary roofing repairs. Assets utilized to fulfill temporary roofing requirements include Corps contracted forces and temporary roofing planning and response teams from across the USACE. We recently spoke with Phil White, the Readiness Operations Center Emergency Manager for the USACE Lake Charles Operation.

White says FEMA executed a mission assignment for the Blue Roof Mission after Hurricane Laura made landfall near Lake Charles. The Corps completed approximately 8,000 roof missions after the first storm. Only a few weeks after Laura’s landfall, Hurricane Delta made landfall about ten miles east of Cameron with winds near 100 miles per hour. The second hurricane posed challenges to those survivors who experienced damage from Hurricane Laura requiring approximately 10 percent of the homes to be repaired again. 

“Ninety percent of the roofs we installed from Laura survived Hurricane Delta’s 100 mph winds, which is good news for us,” said White. There were about 20,000 roofs that were eligible for repairs after the first storm but the homeowners did not request assistance. However, after Hurricane Delta, the Corps re-opened the application process for residents to apply for consideration and potential repairs. To watch the entire interview with the USACE’s Phil White, click on video link below.

The impacts in Louisiana resemble the housing mission needs USACE supported after Hurricanes Irma and Maria impacted Puerto Rico in 2017. Thousands of homes needed repairs following those back-to-back hurricanes. FEMA requested the Corps implement the Blue Roof Mission to help repair homes across the island. In addition to the Blue Roof Mission, FEMA initiated its Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program and contracted with the Tidal Basin Group to implement the initiative. The program was administered by the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority under the Emergency Home Repairs Virgin Islands Program (EHRVI). The program allowed people to live in their homes while repairs were being made and was designed to provide emergency assistance for life sustaining, public health and safety needs. The support included emergency repairs to walls, roofs, electricity and plumbing. A secondary phase of the program provided for installation of code compliant roofs for those with storm related damages.

Tidal Basin Group’s Housing and Infrastructure Director, Andre LeBlanc, led the STEP initiative in Puerto Rico and says one of their main goals was to help Puerto Ricans stay on the island during the recovery period.

“The entire area was impacted and just about every home on the island was affected,” said LeBlanc.  “The only choice for survivors was to stay on the island to support the rebuilding effort or leave and not participate in the rebuilding their homes,” he said.  Even with the program, an estimated 300,000 islanders left for the mainland U.S., many seeking refuge in Florida.

The Tidal Basin Team facilitated and processed over 200,000 applicants for the STEP program and successfully repaired over 108,000 homes. Tidal Basin also hired nearly 800 local islanders to support implementation of the program.

To see the Puerto Rico STEP program interview with Andre LeBlanc and a shortened version of the USACE Housing Mission video interview with Phil White, see the video below: