Resident helps in Florida

Emergency Services Manager volunteers after Charley hits

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Routt County Emergency Services Manager Chuck Vale met a Florida woman this week who has a large hole in her roof thanks to Hurricane Charley.

The woman's insurance company told her not to do anything about the hole until an agent could visit her house, which should take about two weeks. Meanwhile, a storm is expected to drop two inches of rain in the next few days, Vale said.

Vale is volunteering in Florida for two weeks through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said he has learned a lot about what happens in the wake of a serious disaster, including how affected residents feel.

"(You) clearly understand from a personal note what and how people think when they're truly needing help," Vale said from Florida.

Immediately after Hurricane Charley, Vale and three other emergency managers and officials in Colorado volunteered. Those four arrived in Florida last Saturday, with two other groups from the state following.

States across the nation have an agreement through FEMA that when one state needs help dealing with an emergency, workers from other states respond.

FEMA is responding to the estimated $15 billion in damage left by the recent hurricane, Vale said. Vale has been assigned to work in Osecola County for his two weeks, where the hurricane caused about $350 million worth of damage to 10,000 houses.

He has seen firsthand how FEMA and other groups, such as the Red Cross and state and local governments, come together in such a disaster. In many instances, he has been surprised by the lack of organization.

Vale said he already has two pages of notes and plans to look over the county's disaster plans when he returns, making adjustments using what he has learned.

Vale's job is to go door to door, making sure residents are registered with FEMA so they can receive assistance. The most heart-touching part of the job, he said, is talking to people who need help.

Some neighborhoods are untouched, while others have homes with gaping holes that are still without electricity.

This is Vale's first chance to work on such a large-scale disaster, and it was an opportunity he said he could not turn down.

Routt County commissioners have shown Vale "overwhelming" support for his trip, Vale said, which will be fully paid for by FEMA. The Routt County sheriff and undersheriff are prepared if a large-scale emergency happens in the county, while Vale's secretary is holding down his office, he said.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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