Louisville team of engineers hit by Hurricane Maria in the Virgin Islands

Louisville team of engineers hit by Hurricane Maria in the Virgin Islands

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – A Louisville team from the Army Corps of Engineers had an abrupt change of plans while working recovery efforts in the Virgin Islands.

Eric Cheng was leading a team tasked with clearing massive amounts of debris left by Hurricane Irma when the islands were hit Tuesday by the equally destructive Hurricane Maria.  Part of the team evacuated to Atlanta.  Cheng stayed behind at a hurricane fortified resort in St. Croix that was damaged in the storm.

"I won't lie," Cheng said. "The metal shorings they put on the windows were shaking.  And some of them actually broke off."

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Cheng and his Army Corps of Engineers team were trying to figure out how to gather up the massive amounts of hurricane debris left behind by Irma in the Virgin Islands.  That work will soon resume.

"We can't wait to get back at it," Cheng said in a post on Facebook.  "Everyone has sacrificed a lot to be out here to help. The power outages, downed communications, and difficult travel between islands add greatly to the challenges we face with our mission. There's nothing quite like the sight of an airliner full of people from USACE to the Red Cross to FEMA to the EPA enduring the sweltering four-hour round trip commute that bookends each day, just to keep the relief and recovery efforts moving forward."

Cheng described Hurricane Irma as devastating to the islands of St. Thomas and St. John: "These islands were once lush and vibrant, but now, so much of it has been stripped away," he said.   "I've never had to drive over so many downed power lines in my life. Entire mountainsides now look like winter under the summer's sun."

Cheng said there is so much debris left on the small islands that they are not sure yet where or how to dispose of it.

Cheng's original deployment was supposed to last a month.  After Hurricane Maria hit the islands, he told his wife he expects to be on the job much longer.

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