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Pumps Make for Quick Work of Flood Recovery

When preparing for a hurricane, the last thing on your mind is what you’ll do after it’s passed. As Hurricane Isaac made landfall in August 2012, residents along the Gulf Coast were more concerned about surviving the tropical storm-force winds and heavy rainfall than worrying about what was to come after. But the damage left behind was widespread, and dams along the coastline were briefly compromised. Fortunately, they did not break completely and were pumped to prevent failure.

That was the case for the Percy Quin dam and reservoir, which swelled overnight from the heavy precipitation. With the waters rising after the storm, the small Mississippi town of McComb was in danger of being overtaken with flood waters.

On Saturday, September 1, Scot O’Bryan, national bypass manager at Sunbelt Rentals, received a call.

“I remember exactly where I was when the Army Corps of Engineers called with a request for an emergency response to the Percy Quin reservoir,” said O’Bryan. “The communication went on pretty much all day, and within 36 hours we mobilized our equipment and had everything on-site by Monday morning.”

Hurricane Isaac’s widespread devastation across the Gulf meant many companies, including Sunbelt Rentals, had a lot of equipment and manpower already tied up.

“In order to respond in an emergency, you have to have multiple resources you can pull from,” said O’Bryan. “Our team has a network of more than 700 locations, which allowed us to respond quickly with manpower and equipment.” 

Sunbelt Rentals sent crews out of Charlotte, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; and Mobile, Alabama. Equipment coming from San Antonio, Texas, arrived in McComb with a bit more fanfare, via a government escort.

Once O’Bryan and his team arrived on-site, they were tasked with engineering a pumping solution that would lower the level in the reservoir while taking the pressure off of the dam. First and foremost, safety was a priority for O’Bryan and his crew.

“When you have multiple pumps, fusion track machines, forklifts, and cranes in a small working area, your primary goal must be safety – making sure nobody gets hurt,” he said.

O’Bryan worked closely with the project manager from the Army Corps of Engineers to determine the best way to route the flow and pipe layout. With limited time and resources, O’Bryan and the Sunbelt Rentals team created an organized and uniform system using nine 18-inch pumps, one 24-inch pump, and two 12-inch pumps that were easy to maneuver and didn’t create a safety hazard.

It's not just a matter of throwing pumps in the reservoir and turning them on,” said O’Bryan. “The process requires coming up with an engineered solution that is not going to compromise the pumps, but will safely reroute the water flow while lowering the water level quickly.”

By estimating the volume of the reservoir, O’Bryan was able to calculate how many gallons they were going to be able to pump out per day to alleviate the pressure on the section of the dam that was compromised.

“With the solution we engineered, we were pumping around 90,000 gallons per minute and 125 million gallons of water per day,” said O’Bryan.

One of the biggest challenges O’Bryan and his crew faced was ensuring there was a constant supply of fuel for the pumps that were working around the clock.

“The pumps were burning through a lot of fuel – almost 4,000 gallons a day – and we were at least 90 miles from a major city,” said O’Bryan. “With fuel being delivered at least twice a day and 24-hour surveillance, our team made sure our fuel never reached dire levels.”

Despite many challenges, just seven days after Sunbelt Rentals received that emergency phone call, the water receded and the residents of McComb were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

“This project took being prepared to a whole new level,” concluded O’Bryan. “Luckily, we had the team, resources, and commitment needed to quickly mobilize the pump equipment and engineer a solution that was able to keep the town of McComb safe.”

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