GULFPORT, Miss. (NNS) -- A little more than three weeks after Hurricane Katrina hammered Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, U.S. Navy Seabees continue to work to help rebuild lives and city infrastructure with the same determination they had when their work began Aug. 30.
More than 3,000 Seabees from all over the U.S. have aided in disaster relief efforts.
The 22nd Naval Construction Regiment (NCR), based in Gulfport, Miss., serves as the head command for all Seabees attached to Joint Task Force Katrina.
"Our first priority after the storm was the accountability and safety of our troops," said Lt. Cmdr. Scot Sanders, operations officer with the 22nd NCR. "After that, we began clearing roads and getting basic routes cleared for emergency recovery and rescue operations."
The Seabees have cleared debris from more than 720 miles of roadway since they began, giving emergency vehicles vital access to damaged areas. All work performed immediately following the storm was considered Disaster Recovery Phase I by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). During this phase, emergency work was authorized without FEMA tasking or funding.
Sanders explained how the next steps, which took effect when the FEMA declared hurricane recovery at phase II, included focusing on critical infrastructure items such as restoring water, sewage and electricity. "The city can't effectively operate relief missions without the basic necessities," he said, "and one of our many jobs was to get them operational again."
The Seabees haven't been alone in the disaster relief operations. They've worked with local sheriffs' departments, the American Red Cross and military components from Mexico, the Netherlands and Canada.
"All of the organizations involved have been doing an outstanding job," said Master Chief Constructionman Matthew Cabral, operations chief for the 22nd NCR. "All of us work flawlessly together. We're glad we have the resources to contribute the way our Seabees have to this mission."
Cabral spent a great deal of time visiting the various sites his Seabees were at to gather feedback and monitor progress. "I'm not surprised at the performance and dedication of these Seabees one bit," he said. "It's our nature. It's part of our motto even - 'With compassion for others, we build, we fight.'"
Not much preparation was needed prior to the hurricane because Seabees keep their equipment operational and ready to go at a moment's notice, explained Sanders. Disaster relief is one of their main missions, so they've been training for a situation like this since becoming Seabees.
While Seabees still work at assisting in Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, many of them are watching Hurricane Rita, heading through the Gulf of Mexico toward Texas. Preparations are also being made for high winds and heavy rains expected in the immediate area.
For the latest Navy news on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/hurricane/.