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    One year later: Camp Atterbury's storm of the century

    One year later: Camp Atterbury's storm of the century

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Houx | In addition to more than $50 million in property damages to Camp Atterbury, last...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Rob Cooper 

    Camp Atterbury Public Affairs

    CAMP ATTERBURY JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ind. — Look around Camp Atterbury and it's hard to imagine that one year ago, Mother Nature wrote a page of destruction in one of the Army's premiere training center's history books.

    The storm, which drew a line of devastation across Camp Atterbury's cantonment area last June, is long gone, along with most of the damages it wrought: broken gas and power lines, dozens of overturned civilian and military vehicles, more than $50 million in property damage, and miraculously, not one injury.

    However, it didn't take long for Camp Atterbury, state and federal officials to turn the tides of the storm's wrath, despite a flood of epic proportions that followed just days after the tornado. And thanks to a combination of inner-agency cooperation and a myriad of reconstruction projects, the post continues to support service members from around the country even better one year later.

    "Holy crap, sir, our building's gone!"

    Maj. Ken Potchen, last year's director of public works at Camp Atterbury, has experienced his fair share of Indiana's home brew of severe weather. Still, he said that he never experienced any storm like that of last year's F3 tornado, but was nonetheless expecting something big on the horizon the evening of June 3, 2008.

    "I was watching the news and saw the storm coming through Camp Atterbury," he said, recalling last year's events. "I knew I had to get to post to assess the damage, and as I was getting dressed, I got a call from a Soldier that lives on post. He said, 'Holy crap, sir, our building's gone!' I knew it was going to be bad."

    Potchen wasn't the only one making a beeline toward Camp Atterbury following the storm, though. Post Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Ron Morris said that he too had received word that the storm had cut through the post and was immediately en route to the installation.

    According to weather reports from the National Weather Service, the storm touched down around 10 p.m. that evening, and Morris said that he was barely ahead of the storm itself as he made his way toward the aftermath.

    "I've never been that close to a tornado," he said. "When I got there, the post was a mess; there were downed power lines all over the place. The gas (from broken gas lines) was so strong it'd make your stomach turn."

    As officials and emergency services quickly arrived following the tornado, Morris said that he was focused on one thing; the safety and well-being of those who had weathered the storm. Since Camp Atterbury trains mobilizing units all year round, almost 2,000 Marines were on post at the time, in addition to Soldiers, civilians workers, campers and inmates at the on-post Indiana Department of Corrections facility. The storm had wound its way across Camp Atterbury in such a way that those on post ended up being mere yards from the tornado's path.

    "Our camp grounds were full of campers, and the tornado shifted its course about 200 yards from where they were staying," Morris said. "The true miracle was that no one was hurt. If you look at the incredible damage, it certainly gives you a sense of awe."

    Potchen agreed. "I think we were very blessed, considering our troop concentration at the time," he said. "If that storm shifted just a little, there could have been some serious issues."

    Bryan Pearson, the superintendent for Camp Atterbury's Indiana Department of Corrections, said that security concerns among his inmates were never compromised despite moderate damage to his facility's outer fence line and recreation yard. In fact, he didn't realize that the damage was so profound since no issues were reported to him during the storm.

    "There were no injuries, everyone was accounted for, and for the most part, inmates stayed calm during the process," he said.

    Additionally, more than a mile of Camp Atterbury's outer fence line perimeter was damaged from the twister, but Potchen said that security was never breached due in part to the quick response they soon received to construction and rebuilding efforts.

    Assessing the damage

    After safety concerns and accountability among troops and others had been addressed, it was then time to pick up the pieces. Potchen said he immediately contacted power companies to deal with the broken gas and power lines, as well as the post provost marshal to prevent anyone from traipsing through the immense amount of debris and heavily-damaged buildings.

    "People had a strong desire to go in and get their stuff, so we had to put out [announcements] to prevent that," Potchen said.

    Among the damage was, ironically, the complete decimation of the installation's Directorate of Public Works' buildings and equipment. Despite the losses, Potchen said he assembled assessment crews and equipped them with pens and forms similar to rental car agreements.

    "Instead of a drawing of a car on the worksheet, we have a drawing of a building," he said. "Damage is noted and estimated cost is established."

    In addition to the immediate mobilization of Soldiers both on- and off-post to address clean-up efforts, most of Camp Atterbury IDOC inmate population was called in to assist.

    "As soon as we got the request, we began assembling teams," Pearson said. "We're always trying to assist the community, and I think it's more rewarding for the [inmates] and staff when it's in a time of need."

    The 500-year flood

    It seemed that nature didn't want to let up on its assault on Camp Atterbury and surrounding communities. Five days after the tornado, record flooding throughout southern Indiana created an unwanted water world for many Hoosiers. For an already battered Camp Atterbury, flooding to the post and the nearby residential area of Prince's Lakes was the icing on the cake.

    "I think we received about 11 inches of rain in about four hours," Potchen said. "I imagined it as a 100-year flood, but certainly many people thought it was a 500-year flood."

    "It was unbelievable that the flood followed so quickly after such devastation," Morris added.

    While water covered some roadways on post, it was the dam bursting near the small sub-division at Prince's Lakes that left more than 125 people stranded, prompting immediate evacuation of residents in and around the area. Morris praised the concerted efforts of both local and post emergency services that worked together during the entire process.

    "To be able to come through this like we did... really speaks about the strength and partnerships we have with the community," he said.

    Rebuilding bigger and better than before

    As assessment teams worked all night and into the next day following the tornado, it became clear that emergency appropriations were quickly warranted. Potchen said that $10 million was committed to Camp Atterbury by the United States Property and Fiscal Office for emergency contracting, and by that evening, $20 million was made available to combat Mother Nature's wrath. In total, Camp Atterbury has so far received more than $10 from Army Lease Proceeds, $5.7 million from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations and Housing), more than $800,000 from the U.S. Army Installation Management Command and more than $22 million from the National Guard Bureau.

    Potchen said that thanks to help from those agencies along with Indiana Congressmen Mike Pence and Steve Buyer, who visited Camp Atterbury following the tornado, more than 98 percent of the damages were repaired and even improved within four months of the catastrophe.

    "[The tornado's damage] was very inconvenient, but we ended up with a lot of new roofs, new windows and more energy efficient renovation to some of these buildings that have been around since the 70's," Potchen said. I'm reluctant to say this, but from a facility standpoint, we're better off than we were."

    Today, estimates of the property damage stand at around $50.3 million from the more than 50 buildings damaged, in addition to more than $780,000 in equipment and logistical damage.

    "We still don't have a final cost assessment, since we're constantly turning over stones to find damage," Potchen said. "It's a natural process of rehab."

    "The construction is ongoing, but significant amounts of repairs and improvements are complete," post deputy commander Morris said.

    Since the destruction, only two military construction projects remain before restoration from the tornado is complete, Potchen said. One is a $10.1 million project to construct a battalion-sized dining facility capable of feeding up to 800 people at a time, thus replacing the previous facility that could only hold 200. The second project is a new, $12.2 million reconstruction of Camp Atterbury's DPW area.

    Looking back, it seems that despite the horrendous amounts of damage and debris created from the tornado, operations continue to move forward at Camp Atterbury. Save for the occasional construction teams adding green, steel roofing and new windows to buildings throughout post and a single, tattered warehouse near the DPW area, all evidence of last year's disaster has been erased. Morris applauded the tremendous efforts from the engineers, construction companies and emergency responders and said that in fact, Camp Atterbury has since emerged better than before.

    "We've taken our lessons learned and improved from them," he said. "After all was said and done I really gained peace of mind through the performance of our installation and the contractors that assisted with the reconstruction efforts."



    Date Taken: 06.04.2009
    Date Posted: 06.04.2009 10:12
    Story ID: 34538
    Location: CAMP ATTERBURY, IN, US 

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