"The day I met Mr. Williams, I was looking for his house and drove past it because I didn't see it; all I saw were trees," Roofing Quality Assurance Specialist George Hayes recalled. "Honestly, I wasn't expecting anyone to be home. So many folks evacuated after the storm, I just figured no one was home. As I got closer to the door, I heard his little dog bark. I yelled, "Is anyone home?" and I saw a movement through the window. The door opened, and he drove his wheelchair out onto the front porch. My heart just sank."
At that moment, Hayes knew he needed to go above and beyond to help this man.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supports southwest Louisiana with Hurricane Laura recovery efforts in more ways than one. Still, the primary mission remains to provide temporary roofing for homeowners until more permanent repairs can be made.
The home and roof must meet specific requirements to qualify for a blue roof. One of those requirements includes the top not containing too much debris. Corps contractors can remove a branch here and there; however, if the removal requires heavy machinery, the homeowner must make other removal arrangements prior to ‘blue roofing’ their home.
That's why Hayes went the extra mile to help a homeowner in need of additional assistance.
"Mr. Williams is a severely disabled man, missing his left leg," Hayes said. "I wasn't sure what to think of the situation but, the look in his eyes told me everything I needed to know. He needed help."
Hayes said he knew that this would not be a house that the Corps would take on due to the extreme damage to the home under normal Standard Operating Procedures.
"Mr. Williams explained that the National Guard had come after the storm and cut a path from his home to the road," Hayes added. "I realized that if I was going to make my case for this man, I was going to have to push really hard."
Hayes reported the situation up to his chain of command, which ultimately landed in the hands of Andrew Auxier, a local government liaison in the area. Hayes said they felt a community group would be the way to go; that's how a Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster group called Samaritan's Purse became involved.
"In this case, once Samaritan's Purse came into my mind, I simply went to their website to see where they were staging in our area," Auxier said. "Turns out, they were staging about 3 miles away from where I was working. So, I just drove down to them and presented them with the case of Mr. Williams."
During this time, Hayes continued to contact Mr. Williams to make sure he was okay, even though Hayes had many other assessments to conduct on top of that.
"I went by Mr. Williams' house several times the following days to check in on him and to assure him that he had not been forgotten," Hayes said. "I told him we were working hard to get the trees removed and get a blue roof on his house."
After just a few days of coordinating, Samaritan's Purse agreed to help and had the trees removed.
"I later did the assessment on the roof and we immediately pushed it to the top of the list," Hayes said. "We had a contractor come out that night and install a blue roof."
Hayes said he followed up the next morning to ensure the roof had been installed. Williams and Hayes spoke briefly, and Hayes said the homeowner was enormously grateful for the hard work the Corps' put in to help him.
As for the rest of the Blue Roof Mission, Auxier said the recovery efforts in southwest Louisiana had been solid, with each deployment presenting unique issues and challenges.
"We haven't encountered anything to this point for which we couldn't supply a solution," he added. "It has to be said that the personnel on this deployment have been top shelf. If I'd had the chance to hand-pick the people involved in this response, I couldn't have done better."
Auxier said that this fact alone makes a huge difference in how a response unfolds. He thinks that's the main reason they've experienced the success they have up to this point.
"The wonderful thing about the Blue Roof mission is that it buys people like Mr. Williams some time, and in turn, buys them some peace of mind," Auxier said. "If you put yourself in their shoes, these are folks whose lives have been completely turned upside-down. Their anxiety level is probably higher than it's ever been, in a lot of cases. So, with Blue Roof, we're able to make their home safe for habitation -- they can get out of the shelter or hotel and go home."
Auxier said this program also buys homeowners some time until they can get a contractor to fix the roof permanently.
"So basically, it gives them some sense of normalcy in an otherwise non-normal situation," he added. "It's a really good program, and it's nice to see people like Mr. Williams benefit from it."
For more information on how to apply for temporary roofing, please visit www.usace.army.mil/blueroof. The deadline to apply is Sept. 30, 2020.