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Flood damage hit Fort Irwin training areas, homes

Aug. 27, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

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An unidentified person carries sandbags after floods damaged facilities at Fort Irwin, Calif., on Aug. 25. (National Training Center)

Fort Irwin, Calif., and the National Training Center will be working for weeks to restore its flood-damaged training areas, homes and roads after an hour-long monsoon Sunday left the base covered with mud and debris, authorities said.

At the National Urban Warfare Center — a hub for recent training exercises — a mock prison was buried by tons of mud and rubble, and mock guard towers were listing sideways.

Post officials said NTC would nonetheless be ready for its next mission rehearsal exercise in mid-September. The 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division is set to visit Fort Irwin before leaving for Afghanistan.

“We’ll be able to get it back up, and we might weave it into the rotation,” Col. Jonathan Braga, the garrison commander told Army Times. “It might be a little more Afghanistan-like.”

Tropical Storm Ivo ripped through the post on Sunday at 4:30 p.m., bringing monsoonal rain, wind and hail. Because the desert soil doesn’t absorb water fast enough, heavy rains result in flooding and the displacement of mud and rocks.

“I’ve never seen anything like this storm that hit us, it was an hour or so of Armageddon-like rain that basically changed the landscape here,” said Brig. Gen. Theodore Martin, commander of the NTC and Fort Irwin. “The rain came down so fast, so quick, it displaced a lot of earth, rock and water.”

“When I say we dodged a bullet, I cannot believe we did not have anybody injured or killed by fast-moving water,” Martin said. “It was Sunday and we didn’t have a rotation out here.”

The flood waters that created havoc Sunday had mostly receded, eroding roads, exposing utility lines and blanketing streets in mud. More than 100 homes that either took on water or roof damage were awaiting repairs. The post hospital’s operating room, compromised with mud and water, was days away from reopening. The post’s elementary school was coated in mud, eight weeks from reopening.

“Eighteen inches of water, and every classroom, 90 percent of that building had water in it,” Braga said.

Braga said the damage was “hands-down, in the millions,” though an assessment was still underway, with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Though the post’s elementary school of 651 children and a barracks were shuttered by flood damage, the base’s ample training and lodging spaces were being used to accommodate both the school and the soldiers. Fort Irwin can host a brigade of 5,000 and a guest opposing force.

On the bright side, many soldiers were volunteering to fill thousands of sandbags in preparation for the next storm and aid in the clean up. The base was also receiving assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers, Installation Management Command and Forces Command.

“They are taking a personal interest in every soldier and family member on this base, and we do not want for anything,” Martin said.

Fort Irwin, miles from the nearest town and on the edge of the Mojave Desert, supports roughly 4,750 active duty service members and 7,220 family members. The installation employs approximately 1,330 federal government employees and 2,640 contractor employees.

“We’re just one long extension cord [away from Barstow, Calif.], so once that get’s cut, that affects services to us,” Braga said.

Nearby storms left the installation without power on Aug. 18 and July 22. Sunday’s storm, however, did not knock out power at the installation.

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