Civilian from Patrick Air Force Base helps St. Croix victims


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Claudette Wells spent six weeks aboard a cruise ship and didn’t have to pay a nickel. However, she did work, and very hard, for the pleasure.

Wells was part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Surge Capacity Force, which provided disaster relief in St. Croix after Hurricane Maria. The hurricane was considered by the National Hurricane Center to be the 10th most intense Atlantic hurricane on record.

Wells spent the time aboard the 2,056-passenger Fascination, a ship that Carnival Cruise Lines provided to help rescue workers.

“It was a bit surreal to spend my days witnessing the abject conditions the people of St. Croix had to endure, then turn around and return to a luxury cruise liner with great food, air conditioning, running water and electricity,” Wells said.

“It made me realize just how fortunate I was.”

Wells, an acquisition program manager for the Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick Air Force Base, jumped at the chance to help the residents of the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territory. The Department of Homeland Security invited civilian federal employees to volunteer in the relief efforts.

Making it easier to say yes was the fact her employer not only allowed her to take time off, but actually kept sending her a paycheck.

“Why wouldn’t I want to help?” said Wells, a retired U.S. Navy officer.

She received a condensed emergency response training course in Anniston, Ala., so she could effectively address the needs of folks affected by the disaster. From Alabama, Wells was off to St. Croix, where she joined other FEMA disaster relief workers. Her focus was individuals with disabilities.

“I worked with folks with vision, hearing, mobility or cognitive disabilities,” said Wells, who helped them connect with service agencies, including those that distributed the medical equipment these persons desperately needed.

“Some of what we saw was so horrible.”

When she couldn’t connect with the affected via phone, Wells would go door-to-door to check on residents and register them with FEMA. Back at the ship, Wells would upload these forms to FEMA’s database.

The experience is one Wells will never forget.

“They have no power, no running water, limited transportation, little food and the damage is unimaginable,” she said.

“They weren’t out there looting or complaining or rioting. They seemed genuinely grateful for the presence of FEMA. Just about everyone I came in contact with thanked us for being there.” 

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