Winterle

Asbury Solomons resident David Winterle poses two days before heading to Florida to help with hurricane relief efforts.

Asbury Solomons resident David Winterle headed to Florida on Sunday to help with hurricane relief efforts, after only about a month at home between deployments for the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Winterle spent the first nine months of 2017 in North Carolina assisting with relief efforts from Hurricane Matthew. He stayed in the area just in case it was impacted by Hurricane Irma this year. He’ll be in Florida now “as far as I can see into the future,” he said.

A retired U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service and a former county administrator in northeastern Pennsylvania, Winterle has worked with FEMA for 21 years. While in Pennsylvania, Winterle encountered FEMA after the area was impacted by flooding in 1996.

“I was fixin’ to retire,” he said. He was able to work for FEMA part time then, but is now full time and is deployed more now than he was before. His wife was working full time in Pennsylvania when he retired and went to work for FEMA and she had a long commute, so they looked for a retirement place and wound up in Solomons in 2002.

While in the field with FEMA, Winterle coordinates FEMA’s activities in an area as a liaison for the local government with the federal government. Relief efforts take place over months and years, long after the 24-hour news cycle covers the disasters.

“When something happens, it’s new … but after two or three weeks, it’s not news anymore,” Winterle said. “… These are long-term events, particularly the catastrophic ones.”

In the immediate aftermath of a hurricane, tornado, flood or wildfire, FEMA puts affected individuals into hotels, then temporary housing in the form of mobile homes. They then have 18 months to be out of the temporary housing. In North Carolina where he was previously deployed, Winterle said there are still FEMA folks dealing with people in mobile homes. FEMA has to check in with those people every 30 to 60 days to make sure they’re making progress on permanent housing.

Aside from the issue of housing, there’s also a lot of work to be done on infrastructure, including roads, hospitals and schools. As they repair, they also try to mitigate the effects of another event — for example, putting a bigger culvert in a road for next time.

“It takes a long time to put individuals back to the way they were. Chances are, it will be a new normal,” Winterle said.

FEMA has taken Winterle to Texas for Hurricane Katrina relief, for wildfire recovery outside of Boston, to Kentucky for flood relief and more.

In Kentucky, a tornado hit in the midst of relief for a flood. In Beaumont, Texas, where victims of Hurricane Katrina fled, nearly a month to the day of Katrina, Hurricane Rita hit Texas. Winterle and the Katrina victims had to then flee Rita. When they got back to Beaumont, the hotels they were staying in were closed and had no power. Winterle said he and the hurricane victims had to do things like wash themselves with bottles of water. Beaumont got hit again this year by Hurricane Harvey.

“There are some things you just can’t mitigate,” he said.

While in Kentucky when the tornado hit after the flooding, a tornado victim told him something that sticks with him to this day.

Winterle came up to a house that looked perfectly fine to find three generations of men in rocking chairs on the porch. They invited him to rock with them. Winterle realized even though the front of the house was intact, the rest of the house was blown away by the tornado.

One of the men told him that he’d rather have to recover from a tornado than a flood, because with a tornado, you can start to rebuilt right away.

“That stuck with me for a long time,” Winterle said.

Originally from Michigan, Winterle’s 21 years of employment with FEMA is the longest period of employment in his life. After being stationed at Ft. Drum in New York, working at the Pentagon, working in Pennsylvania, his various months-long deployments for FEMA and now using Solomons as his home base, Winterle said “home is wherever you hang your hat.”

Twitter: @CalRecSARAH

Twitter: @CalRecSARAH