Oklahoma City -- More than six months after the Christmas Day ice storm, some workers are still cleaning up debris and overseeing repairs. In scattered teams throughout Oklahoma, federal, state and local officials are still working together. Many of them are state and federal retirees who are also FEMA disaster reservists. Reservists are ordinary citizens, on--call, and professionally trained to help after disasters.
But they are doing more than building roads and bridges. They are also building and cultivating lasting friendships.
Jim Holderfield, a retiree helping the state, lives in southeastern Oklahoma. He worked as the state environmental liaison.
"I spent more time with the other disaster workers than with my own family. We started with the floods, declared in November, and then the ice storms. It is hard to describe the relationship you build with people when you work on the same goal for so long -- so many hours a day, so many days of the week, often without days off -- for months," Holderfield said.
County Commissioner JD Williams of McIntosh County said that the FEMA people in the field have been great to work with.
"Now I have new friends. I even sent them a little card that said, 'Friends like you never go out of style.' I figure if I should ever go to Nashville, I can see Jim McClure. And if I go to California I can call on Pete Royere and say hello," Williams said.
In Ada, FEMA reservist Jim Smith joined the local band and got to play in the Centennial Concert on the 4th of July.
Joe Bray, deputy coordinating officer, said "Even though they have been away from their homes and families for months, our folks in the field are providing outstanding customer service under trying conditions."
Fred Liebe, state coordinating officer, adds, "We are fortunate to have such a dedicated cadre of reserve personnel, both at the state and federal level. Without them we could not accomplish the disaster recovery process."
Trying conditions probably contributed to the bonds of friendship. State, federal and local officials have slid on the ice together and are now standing in the hot sun together -- trying to avoid snakes, ticks and sunburn -- taking care of the people's business.
"I am so impressed that the reservist system works so well, said Vern Hysell of the City of Eufaula. I saw people from Chicago and New York, all over the United States, working together. We are all taxpayers. And we want to do this clean--up right, and make it fair for everyone," Hysell said