STEARNS COUNTY, Minn. (KMSP) - The Florida Keys suffered some of the worst damage from Hurricane Irma. Among the groups moving into to help set up relief operations was Minnesota's Incident Management Team.
"It was pretty bad if you're a resident down there,” said Eric Waage of Hennepin County Emergency Management. "No fuel, no phones, no water. No sewer, no internet… so they were cut off and trying to make it on their own."
It was a massive storm requiring a massive response. In the middle of the hard hit Florida Keys, 16 Minnesotans from the state's All-Hazard Incident Management team drove into the heart of the disaster as the storm was still raging.
"I was expecting to see things similar to what we'd see during a tornado due to the high winds, but to see also the damage from the storm surge was really indescribable," said Erin Hausauer, Stearns Co. Emergency Management.
Water and food were critical. Working with Monroe County and FEMA, the Minnesota team set up food distribution sites.
"So, we had to warehouse in the middle of baseball fields and parking lots and put pallets and pallets of things together in and orderly way and come up with a flow for both vehicles and bicycles to make sure people got what they needed and safely take it on their way," said Waage.
Even the relief teams had to improvise.
"So if you look at some of the pictures and things that we were able to provide you'll be able to see that there were pieces of metal or gutter that were dividing our traffic lanes where people should drive,” said Hausauer. “There were makeshift signs with whatever could be found on the side of the road."
The Minnesota team completed the distribution sites and is now home, but Hausauer says there's still a lot of work back in Florida.
"We were able to be there through kind of the life safety measures, the immediate needs of the community and started to move into recovery then,” said Hausauer. “But this is going to be a long haul for Florida, probably months to probably even years in some cases."
Team members say there's a direct benefit to Minnesota in helping in this relief effort. Deploying a team helps test the state’s emergency management systems and it provides the opportunity to work with other team members from across the country to better prepare for a disaster should one ever happen in Minnesota.