Crew from Louisiana Cleans Up St. James’ Storm Debris
The day before Florence blew in most of us here in St. James were frantically preparing. We diligently secured everything that could possibly become airborne in a strong wind; we bought enough food and water to sustain life for several days; and we charged our cellphones. But none of us ever thought about how we would get rid of the massive amount of fallen trees, limbs, branches, pine cones, etc. that would surely grace our lawns when the storm was over. Fortunately, our town officials did think about that and prepared for it.
Due to the town’s foresight, nine Creel Brothers employees, including the co-owner and COO, Jason Creel, spent the day before the hurricane traveling 14 hours to get from Franklinton, LA, to Myrtle Beach which was their staging area before they could get here. Jason said they always arrive the day before the storm, equipped with enough supplies to be self-sustaining for 10 days. On September 22 they got to St. James and began the pickup for an estimated 30,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris. That would fill 16 football fields with vegetation one foot high.
I had a chance to talk with Jason about why he does what he does and why his crew sticks with him.
Jason and his younger brother are the 4th generation of Creels to own the business. It was started by their great-grandfather in 1938. Jason’s wife is now pregnant.
“The thing I like best about this work,” he said, “is seeing the resilience of the communities. When we first get there people always look like a deer in the headlights, but as time goes on, they get used to it and they come out and join their neighbors. This community is very friendly,” he said, “and it is so neat and clean. The bags look like soldiers all lined up in rows.” And then he asked me if the town had given us all brochures telling us how to fill and stack them. I said, “No, but we did get exactly 34 email blasts and phone calls in 10 days keeping us informed and reminding us each time about what we could (and could not) put in those bags.”
The Creel Brothers crew has helped storm victims all over the country. They even went to Puerto Rico on Thanksgiving night and didn’t come home until St. Patrick’s Day. I asked Jason how he persuades his crew to leave their families for months at a time. He said, “I fly the families to wherever we are once every four weeks. I believe in a strategic work/life balance.” It also helps that they stay in a house instead of a hotel whenever they can. For this trip, they have rented a nine-bedroom house with nine bathrooms in Myrtle Beach.
I asked Jason what was the worst hurricane he had ever seen. He said, “Katrina was the worst, and not just because it was in our backyard. That was a really bad one.”
So while we continue to cope with the aftermath of Florence, we can all be grateful for crews such as Jason’s, willing to leave it all behind and help those in need.