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Homeland Security

National Guard units finish filling levees with sandbags

By Spc. Sarah B. Smith

BELLE CHASSE, La.(Army News Service, Oct. 17, 2006)--Soldiers and Airmen finished filling levees with sandbags Saturday, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed the levees and any sense of security from the devastating waters of the Mississippi River.

Sandbags from a CH-47 Chinook were used to fill the holes in the Braithwaite Scarsdale levee system in northern Plaquemines Parish, La. The levee system once served as a shield from the same waters that damaged it.

Winds and storm surges created holes in the levees, and the five breached levees no longer prevented flooding. Without aid, the flooding continued.

“It looked like lumber yards where the houses are pushed up in a line,” said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Koegler, Flight Training Company, Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. “All natural barriers are broken. Roads, bridges and train tracks are blown all over the region.” The devastation was worse than shown on television.

This served as a great chance for different states to come together for one mission. “We are all making a difference,” said Koegler.

Alabama, Michigan and Pennsylvania’s Army National Guard and a California Army Reserve unit traveled to the strickened state and worked for over a week to fix the levees.

“We were trying to get the sandbags attached to the Chinooks as fast as possible so they can go drop them,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Chablis Carroll 189th Airlift Wing, Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. “We needed to do as much as we can before it rains.”

Soldiers and Airmen used fork lifts to move four-foot-tall bulging, white sandbags, which weighed 5,000 to 7,000 pounds. Thick, metal cables enabled easy retrieval by the Chinooks. Each Chinook’s load of sandbags weighed approximately 20,000 pounds and it dropped 15 to 20 loads a day. The Chinooks played a key role to stop the flooding of water.

“What I did see is water where it’s not supposed to be – surrounding people’s houses,” said Sgt. Kyle Miller, flight engineer, F Co., 131st Aviation Regiment, Birmingham, Ala.

Homes, businesses and other structures were severely damaged by flooding. When the water gets pumped out, citizens in the area will be able to rebuild their lives.

“I can foresee it taking a year before it ever gets back to the way it was here,” said Miller.

“I am glad to be here. I can’t imagine having nothing to come home to,” said Spc. Neil Bryant, F Co., 131st Avn. Regt.

It takes time to rebuild. No one knows exactly how long, but this process, for some, goes faster than others, said Staff Sgt. Jason A. Loveday, A Co., 5159th Avn. Regt., Fort Lewis, Wash. Either way, the levees need repairs.

“This is something worthwhile,” Loveday added. “This is a needed temporary patch to enable the levees to get fixed permanently.”

Parts of the Braithwaite Scarsdale remain closed due to the flooding. Everyday, as the levees are repaired the flooding reduces. “For right now, the main job is sandbags and making sure we are doing all we can do to help,” said Sgt. 1st Class James Scott, F Co., 131st Avn. Regt.

(Editor's note: Spc. Sarah B. Smith serves with the 105th MPAD)

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