Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hampton
FORT PICKETT, Va., - It’s been over a year since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the gulf coast, causing massive flooding, billions of dollars in damages and countless hours of recovery operations that continue today in many parts of the region.
The city of Franklin Va., got a taste of what life might be like for those affected by Katrina and Rita when a slow-moving storm made its way through the city, Oct. 7 and 8, dumping over 12 inches of rain in the area. The torrential downpour caused the Blackwater River to crest to a near record level which led to severe flooding to the city’s downtown business district and surrounding areas under as much as five feet of water.
Governor Timothy M. Kaine surveyed the area, as well as other affected parts of the state, and declared a statewide emergency. This laid the groundwork for members of the 34th Civil Support Team (CST) to leap into action, after receiving a call from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) to assist with recovery operations.
The 34th CST, based at Fort Pickett, arrived in Franklin on Oct. 13 and wasted little time getting started. With nine highly trained personnel and four specialized vehicles, the team assumed decontamination operations in an effort to normalize services in the city, which had been closed since Oct 10.
Lt. Col. Jeffery Hice, commander of the 34th CST, said this mission was a little different from what they were used to.
“This is the first time since our inception that we’ve been called to assist in a natural disaster situation. Our main focus has always been on weapons of mass destruction (WMD); nuclear, biological and chemical,” he said.
The 34th CST worked tirelessly for 49 hours, non-stop, decontaminating over 250 vehicles and 15 personnel, consisting mainly of emergency services workers and first responders. Hice was pleased with the efforts of his team and praised them for their hard work.
“The team did a great job and worked very hard to help the citizens of Franklin recover from this unfortunate event. Our main goal was to help facilitate restoration of essential services so that the people could return to normalcy as quickly as possible and I think we did that,” Hice said.
The 34th CST concluded their mission on Oct. 15 and returned to their home base where they reset their equipment and reassumed posture for the next incident. Residents and business owners of Franklin were allowed to return to the city to assess their damages.
The 34th CST was commissioned in 2000 and was certified fully mission capable in January 2003, and is one of only 32 such units in the country. These units are highly missioned capable of responding at a moment’s notice, to situations involving WMD as well as other hazmat conditions.
The Virginia unit consists of 22 full-time members of the Virginia National Guard, Army and Air, with expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including nuclear, biological and chemical technologies; medicine, communications, systems analysis, logistics, and administration.