A man who grew up on Fort Myers Beach is currently coordinating efforts to supply resources to the coast of New Jersey in the devastating wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Rodney Melsek, brother of Beach resident Lee Melsek, is the Federal Emergency Management Agency planning section chief on one of its three national response teams. He has worked for FEMA for 16 years, and still considers the Beach his home.
Last week via phone, Melsek described the planning efforts for all the resources that he has orchestrated and reported on to the Federal government during the two to three weeks since being deployed to the devastated state. While operations are going well, it will take a great deal of time before things return to being as it was.
"We're not talking months. We are talking years until normalcy is returned here in New Jersey," he said. "There were communities along the coastline and outer islands of New Jersey that were heavily damaged."
Power outages are still being experienced nearly two weeks later. As of Wednesday, Nov. 7, nearly 500,000 people had no power.
"We started out with 2.6 million people out of power. Every day, 200,000 people or so are being returned to full power," said Melsek. "This state was heavily devastated by Hurricane Sandy."
Many agencies have combined forces to blend resources during the aftermath of the tropical event nicknamed "Frankenstorm" due to its timeline being close to Halloween. Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey on Oct. 26.
"FEMA brings together all of those major Federal agencies into one organization, we focus on all the resources that those agencies can bring to bear to help the citizens of New Jersey. Things are going very well," said Melsek.
The partnership also includes the Department of Defense and all other Federal government agencies that can supply resources. Melsek's planning section has 60 coordinators under his command.
"We're talking fuel resources, generator resources, power restoration resources, commodities, food and water and shelter resources. We coordinate all of those efforts at this level," he said.
Melsek's FEMA team was deployed to New Jersey before the storm in anticipation of it hitting the state's coastline then moved to the State Emergency Operations Center in Trenton for integration procedures. By last Thursday, the team was transferred to the FEMA joint field office much closer to the coast.
Melsek holds a bachelor's degree from Florida State University and a master's degree in International Administration at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt. His work as planning section chief for FEMA took him to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina created its devastating damage. This situation may be worse.
"Katrina was bad. There is no doubt about that. I think (this storm) is also catastrophic, and it seems to cover a wider area from the North Carolina coast up to New Jersey and New York and inland a great distance," said Melsek. "From a financial perspective, I think this storm will be even more costly for both the state, Federal government and the individual citizen."
The Jersey coastline has roughly 130 miles of general coastline. FEMA has three different programs: individual assistance program; public assistance program; and mitigation program. Roughly 95,000 of the storm's homeless in New York and New Jersey are eligible for emergency housing assistance.
"There is also a lot of public assistance that will come into this state to repair roads, bridges, buildings, wastewater treatment facilities and water plants. Then there will be mitigation efforts throughout the state. We will be looking forward from this to help prevent this from happening in the future," said Melsek.
Beach residents with relatives or friends in that part of the devastated area should begin to breathe easier soon.
"Power is being restored and communications are being restored," Melsek said. Right now, we have probably 5,000 to 6,000 people in shelters. We're trying to move those people out of the shelters and into some other temporary housing. In a lot of cases it could be hotels or apartments. Once these people get situated and their telephone communications back, they'll be able to get in touch with their friends and relatives around the country. It'll take some time to get in touch with those people who lived around the New Jersey coast."
The FEMA planning section also produces low- and high-altitude maps and geographical information that can pinpoint people's homes and show them the damage that may have occurred.
"'We do a lot of our coordination assessments with airplane photography and satellite imagery," said Melsek. "We are going into the shelters where the people are and setting up a computer for them. They can access that imagery and, in many cases, they can take a look at their houses and see what the damages are."
In 2006, Melsek helped Beach officials write the Town of Fort Myers Beach Emergency Operations Plan. It can be viewed at www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov under the "For Islanders" heading.
"We sat down and wrote what I think is a very good operations plan for Fort Myers Beach. It does address what the citizens there need to know about preparation for a storm, a program for the re-entry pass and pre- and post-storm information," he said.