Tea Civil Air Patrolman Joe Oye spent a week in Texas as Hurricane Harvey moved out of the Houston area.
Oye, along with five others from the South Dakota Civil Air Patrol, traveled to Texas the week of Sept. 4 to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency with disaster recovery after Hurricane Harvey. Their group was stationed at San Marcos, Texas, which was the closest they could get at the time.
“We did a lot of photography work for FEMA so that they could see the extent of the damage and know what they needed for resources and help,” Oye said.
At the base he was stationed at, they had 27 aircraft from across the country. Flight crews consisted of a pilot, observer and photographer. The photographer took pictures out a window in the plane. Oye said they were taking about 40,000 pictures a day.
Oye went down as a pilot and flew for two days before staying on the ground for five days as air branch director.
On their mission, they had three primary areas - Corpus Christi, Houston and Beaumont. Most of the damage in Corpus Christi was straightline winds. Flooding was the damage in Houston and Beaumont.
Although Oye did not get to see as much damage as he thought he would, he said most of the damage he saw was flooding.
“A good week and a half after the hurricane was over, there were houses where you could only see the part of the roof showing,” he said. “It shocked me that even after that far down the road that flooding was still at that level.”
The photos from their mission were used by FEMA to know what resources they needed to put in neighborhoods. They scanned the pictures for environmental problems and also to help people make claims.
In one town, they found a sign on a roof that said they were out of food and water. The town was dry but they were surrounded by water so they could not get in or out of town. With the information they gathered flying over the town, they were able to send a helicopter to land.
Besides taking photos, they also moved FEMA personnel from place to place. And, they flew a radio repeater over the towns with damage infrastructure so police and other radio traffic could work.
Oye was amazed by the support he and his family received from the community. Neighbors helped get kids to school and football practice. They also helped out financially while Oye missed work while volunteering with the Civil Air Patrol.
“It was amazing to me to have the volunteer support. I was really amazed at the support. Many people said thanks for going for those of us that were not able to go,” Oye said. “It was good to see something good in humanity. There’s still good people in the world. We got a lot of love and support from the community.”