Jeffrey E. Haight

In October 2005, I was deployed to Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. My group of 25 volunteer structural engineers, architects, and building inspectors was the first phase of the disaster recovery services donated by the California Office of Emergency Services to Louisiana.

After arrival in Baton Rouge on Sunday October 9, we traveled to SBP on Monday and set up in tents in Camp Lighthouse. On Tuesday we formed five teams of 5. Each team was given a white passenger van which they filled with Gatorade and snacks provided by the camp caterer.

Our mission was to review the structural condition of each building and fill out a report describing the building construction, types of damages present, height of water within building, estimate of cost of repair as a percentage of building value, and any falling hazards or other dangerous conditions.

Tuesday through the following Monday, the routine was the same. Breakfast, then a briefing of the team leaders, then each team received a map with areas of reconnaissance ranging from a shopping center to a trailer park to single-family home neighborhoods. Lunch brought us back to camp, then out for more building inspections. After a hearty dinner we relaxed by discussing the days events or watching baseball playoffs on a television hooked up to the emergency generators that ran all day and night to power the camp and run the gigantic air conditioners that kept our tents comfortable.

The entire parish was flooded by between 3 and 15 feet of water, for up to five weeks. Patio furniture and other debris left resting on roofs indicated total submersion. Some structures floated free of their foundations and wound up in canals, blocking streets, and filling neighbor's yards. In addition to the water damage, mini-tornados and heavy hurricane winds caused extensive damage to buildings and signs.

I reviewed over 400 buildings during my 7 days of reconnaissance. Although the majority of them were single family homes, I also inspected a water tower, public library, several strip malls, apartment buildings, and a police substation.