GRETNA, La. --
GRETNA, La. -- In a warzone, soldiers are trained to watch out for dangerous, life-threatening obstacles. Maybe the enemy scattered landmines around the terrain. Maybe there is a sharpshooter 300 yards away awaiting your approach. Tethered to rooftops in the hot Louisiana sun for the better part of their day, Corps of Engineers Blue Roof contractors assisting with Hurricane Ida disaster response know hidden dangers, too. Their sharpshooter is an unforgiving rusty nail piercing their boot bottom; their landmine is a weak section of roofing with hidden rot under the shingles. Being safe on the ledge of a two-story drop requires vigilance.
“Considering all of the hazards associated with rooftop work--the most obvious being the risk of falling off the roof and sustaining an injury, or worse--dying, the record-setting milestone of 20,000 roofs installed in just a few short weeks is incredible given the level of safety measures needed to install even one roof,” said Sarah Futrell, Blue Roof Mission Safety Manager, deployed out of USACE St. Louis District.
Col. Zachary Miller, Commander, USACE Memphis District leading the FEMA-assigned Hurricane Ida disaster response mission for USACE is pleased with the pace blue roofs are appearing on houses across the 25 affected parishes.
“We’ve installed more blue roofs than hurricanes Laura and Delta combined, and in half the time—that’s because we carefully review our processes each time and improve on them; this year we’ve made some major improvements in efficiency and we’re seeing more homes get blue roofs in a shorter period."
Miller’s mission team regularly reports blue roof installation numbers up the chain-of-command and shares production data with FEMA and other federal, state and local agencies, but the raw numbers of blue roof installations does not fully capture how many residents benefit from the program, Miller says.
“We install blue roofs on a lot of multi-family homes, which may have dozens of people living inside,” Miller says, “so while 20,000 roofs already seem like a lot, it’s actually tens of thousands of people we are helping stay dry and protected.”
Homeowner Clive Phillips has seen his fair share of the Gulf Coast’s infamous storms; he’s lived in Louisiana for over 50 years. He owns 12 multi-family dwellings in Gretna, Louisiana that each sustained roof damage from Hurricane Ida.
“Some people stayed, but a lot of people left because they had roof leaks, you know, water coming into their apartments, so they left. The property didn’t have power for like three weeks. So having 97-degree heat, plus 100% humidity, it’s brutal—there’s no way to stay in a dwelling when you have that kind of heat to deal with,” says Phillips.
With the swath of storms that blew in after the hurricane, some of the apartments became unlivable, says Phillips.
Phillips applied for the Blue Roof Program about a week after the storm, noting that the absence of television and internet made getting critical information difficult. He learned about the Blue Roof program from a friend and completed his application online once his internet was restored.
“The process of applying was not difficult…I did it online, so it was it was not hard to apply,” Phillips said. His last property was installed approximately three weeks after he submitted his application.
“Some of these properties are massive so installation can take longer,” says Kevin Slattery, USACE Blue Roof mission manager. “we’ve had residences requiring over 25,000 square feet of our fiber-reinforced plastic sheeting, that’s enough to cover five basketball courts.”
The work is not always as simple as just putting up sheeting, Slattery says, sometimes debris removal is needed, along with the replacement of roof decking for harder-hit roofs. Phillips, whose properties had roofs installed Sept. 28 encourages fellow Louisianans to be patient.
“You guys, FEMA, Army Corps and everybody else is doing everything they can and are doing the work as fast as they can. Some people realize that you guys can only work so fast and some people are just frustrated that they haven't gotten help yet…the only thing I could say is help’s coming—it’s not always as quick as we’d like it to be.”
Col. Miller empathizes with those awaiting their blue roof installation, as the entire process from start to finish involves some sophisticated logistical efforts.
“It’s never soon enough when it’s your roof that’s not covered yet. That sense of urgency is what drives our team to be quick and efficient—our installation rates are proof of that.”
The Corps of Engineers installed the 20,000th roof just 38 days after receiving the FEMA mission assignment.
Contractors were on the ground performing work as of Sept. 2. With recent estimates at approximately 1,100 installations per day, USACE expects the mission to wind down in late October.
“We will be here until the last eligible residence has their blue roof—if they signed up by the deadline of October 15th, we will get it done,” says Miller. Residents seeking a no-cost blue roof installation can call 1-888-Roof-Blu or visit BlueRoof.us by Oct. 15, 2021.
DVIDS Photos: https://www.dvidshub.net/news/407040/with-20000-blue-roofs-installed-corps-engineers-serves-tens-thousands
DVIDS 20,000th Roof Video News Package – Houma resident Mable Lyons: