Strong wind gusts from Hurricane Michael snapped hundreds of trees, violently blew debris and toppled dozens of power lines. But damages at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany paled in comparison to the vast devastation experienced from the EF3 tornado that touched down here in January 2017. And it’s likely the reason personnel aboard the installation were prepared to take the necessary steps to keep the mission going for the logistics base and its tenant organizations.
Before the storm
Commanding Officer Col. Alphonso Trimble said personnel who recently experienced a natural disaster knew exactly what to do days before the hurricane hit.
“Preparing for the storm has been quite extensive,” Trimble explained. “In a sense of putting things away, folks listening and taking the seriousness of the storm (seriously), and doing what they’re supposed to do to (prepare) for it.”
Some of the preparations included securing military equipment and other critical areas, especially areas where contractors were working various projects.
But the velocity of the storm, as it turned into a near-Category 5 hurricane from a Category 2 in less than 24 hours, was a bit challenging for the Base’s Installation and Environment Division staff.
“The speed of the storm actually took us by surprise, I&E Deputy Director Hubert Smigelski, said. “We were ready, but we were only ready because we learned from the (EF3) tornado (in January 2017), so we already had things in place around the base such as our generators, in the event of a loss of power.”
During the storm
As the stormed rolled through Southwest Georgia, the Base’s Emergency Operations Center stood at full capacity to monitor the situation, deliver critical information and ensure the safety and security of the installation.
Trimble’s focus however became communication with base essential personnel.
“Throughout the night there was constant communication via radios that were prepositioned strategically across the base so the (Emergency Operations Center) could have the status of the base before, during and after the storm,” Trimble pointed out.
He explained first responders with the Public Safety Division worked around-the-clock to rope off power lines, trees and downed poles as they fell during the storm.
Fortunately, no injuries were reported.
After the storm
Once Hurricane Michael passed, I&E personnel began cleaning up storm debris for nearly 24 hours straight to ensure MCLB Albany kept its mission going.
“Our people take that seriously,” Smigelski explained, “guys stayed out here who knew their families were at home in harm’s way, and they made arrangements because they knew it was to keep this base running … to keep the mission going for all of our tenants.”
Thanks to a few lessons learned from the tornado, it took four days to repair critical assets.
“We worked with Georgia Power prior to the hurricane coming in,” Smigelski said. “Georgia Power had a crew on standby, ready to assist as soon as the storm moved out. That was a lesson learned during the tornado last year, and Georgia Power personnel did a fantastic job with the assist.”
Installation and Environment Division called on different divisions and tenant commands aboard MCLB Albany to help identify any areas impacted by the hurricane to ensure all damages are included on the assessment.
According to Smigelski, Hurricane Michael caused an estimated $35 million in damages; $3.5 million just to clean up the storm debris. Those numbers could change as damages are continually assessed.
“There was a lot less damage this time, but the destruction was more widespread,” Smigelski added. “We didn’t have that direct impact; we were really fortunate because it could’ve been a lot worse.”
According to base officials, Marine Depot Maintenance Command and the Weapons Storage Facility were the hardest hit.
“We’re going to be okay,” Trimble said. “I think you can always get another building, you can plant another tree, but you can’t get another family member. That was my primary concern … the safety and security of all our personnel and their family members.”