Coast Guard Cutter Kennebec helps get commerce moving after Hurricane Florence

Early on the morning of Sept. 16th, 2018, the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Kennebec cast off their lines, carefully navigated out of Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, Virginia, and at their top speed of eight knots, began their slow decent into the waterways filled with debris from Hurricane Florence’s aftermath.

A crewmember aboard Coast Guard Cutter Kennebec handles electrical cords during an evolution, Sept. 20, 2018, in North Carolina. The Kennebec serviced 28 damaged or destroyed aids to navigation markers after Hurricane Florence hit the East Coast of the United States. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Coast Guard Cutter Kennebec)

Once underway, the crew began assessing the aids to navigation along the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. From there, they crossed state lines into North Carolina and made their way into the Alligator River, the Pamlico Sound and the Pamlico River to continue their assessments of the destroyed or damaged aids to navigation markers due to Hurricane Florence.

The Kennebec began rebuilding the destroyed aids to navigation structures from Hurricane Florence, on Sept. 17th and didn’t stop until nighttime on their fifth and final day. The Kennebec spent their days working to pull debris out of the water, re-installing boards on navigational markers, re-setting buoys that had drifted off-station, and even re-installing entire navigational markers that had taken too much damage to be salvageable. Their work took them outside of their designated area of operations and into unfamiliar waters; but despite their hard work and long hours, the crew of the Kennebec remained diligent and came together as a crew.

“The morale onboard has been outstanding,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Pavlus, the Operations Petty Officer aboard the Kennebec. “This crew has been eager to help assist in any way possible. They take a lot of pride in the work the Kennebec accomplishes and the finished product we provide the maritime community.”

By the end of the trip, the crew had serviced 28 aids, 20 of which were destroyed and had to be completely rebuilt.

For an aid to be considered unsalvageable, it has to be leaning more than 45 degrees, or it has to be completely knocked down and not visible above the surface of the water, said Pavlus. The high winds from Hurricane Florence also broke off many of the day boards that are normally attached to the fixed aids, leaving them bare.

Missing or damaged navigational markers can be extremely dangerous because mariners who aren’t familiar with the waterways they’re transiting will not know where the water becomes shallow, and they run the risk of running aground. In addition, the high winds and strong currents that hurricanes bring with them can shift the sand and shoaling along rivers, causing the channel to narrow or become dangerously shallow in places it wasn’t before.

Crewmembers aboard Coast Guard Cutter Kennebec transfer dayboards to other Coast Guard units helping reconstitute the navigational markers in North Carolina, Sept. 19, 2018. As of Oct. 2, 2018, only 38 of the original 423 aids to navigation discrepancies remain. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Coast Guard Cutter Kennebec)

The waterway that was most severely impacted by Hurricane Florence was the Neuse River. This was where the Kennebec did the majority of its work. The winds were so strong that several heavily-reinforced structures were severely damaged.

Kennebec was not alone in the response, though. They worked closely with Coast Guard Sector North Carolina, Aids to Navigation Team Potomac, Aids to Navigation Team Baltimore, and Coast Guard Station Hobucken to correct the onslaught of discrepancies that were reported after Hurricane Florence dissipated.

“Due to the excellent response time and resources provided, nearly all federal waterways have been verified in the area we operated in,” said Pavlus. “The few remaining discrepancies will be corrected by the primary servicing units when weather and operations permit.”

As of Oct. 2, 2018, there were 423 reported discrepancies after Hurricane Florence, but because of the Coast Guard’s immediate response and teamwork between units who worked together, 385 of the 423 aids to navigation discrepancies have been corrected, and only 38 discrepancies remain. The number continues to go down as our crews in the area continue their hard work in making the waterways safe again; and soon, when there are no more discrepancies left to report, the hard work from the multi-unit crews will have finally paid off.