Hurricane responders from Missouri remember challenges, community

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BOONE COUNTY - Fallen trees, downed power lines, clogged roads and hundreds of people needing rescue: For some Missouri emergency responders, it was, in many ways, just a part of their job.

Two members of Missouri Task Force One and a lineman from Three Rivers Electric  remember their days in the aftermath of hurricanes Florence and Michael.

“We were the first people in some of these areas and just hearing multiple different folks, how excited they were for somebody to come and check on them,” said Adam Stoffer, the logistics manager on Missouri Task Force One.

He said there is typically four hours between the time the task force gets a call and when members are packed and ready to leave. If they are flying, that time increases to six hours.

Some storms are more predictable than others, so the task force gets a warning ahead of time. In those situations, they will deploy the next day. 

“Just because it’s a hurricane, they’re not all the same,” said Doug Westhoff, a task force leader.

Before deploying, members research the area and the storm, pack food, showers and equipment, and load six boats onto trailers. 

Once they get to an affected area, they set up camp on flat land, usually a parking lot. They also communicate with local crews and state agencies on what they need to do.

For linemen, the day starts at 4:30 a.m. and goes until late at night.

Jim Klouzek is a former foreman with Three Rivers Electric Cooperative. He was one of four linemen who responded to Hurricane Michael. 

He remembers the amount of debris they had to get through on the roads. 

“They had lots of trees on the lines, lots of wires down and lots of broken poles,” he said.

Power was out around the area, including one with 52,000 meters.

“I think they only had on like 800 people yet. So the whole thing was out,” Klouzek said. “They were in pretty bad shape.” 

Westhoff said saving lives doesn't just involve water rescues or evacuations. 

“A team actually interacted with somebody who was stung by a bee and having an anaphylactic reaction."

He said the response team had the only doctor around for miles.

"They were probably two to three hours from any kind of medical aid,” Westhoff said. “That’s truly a life saved.”

Klouzek said the community was extremely grateful.

“I mean everywhere you went, like whenever we would stop and start working on something, the people will come out with cookies and water," he said. "Everybody was really nice. Everybody wanted to fix you dinner."

One gas station worker gave the members of Missouri Task Force One as much gas as they wanted with a promise to pay back months later. 

They all said it is rewarding to work in hurricane zones, but also hard to leave family at home at a moment's notice.

“It’s all about support and when you’re home you make it worth your while because you may have to leave tomorrow,” Stoffer said.

Westhoff said, "It’s a lifestyle that we lead and it's challenging at times.”