Barely out of Pelican High school, graduate worked flood, hurricane relief on opposite sides of the U.S.

Pelican high school graduate Peter Casella, left, has the distinction of working flood recovery at the Canadian border, to hurricane recovery on the opposite side of the U.S.—all in the span of a few months.
Repairing roofs was a big part of Peter Casella’s Hurricane Relief work in Florida. This palm tree, toppled on a house, is one example of the damage.

By Louis Hoglund

“Vacation” is a peculiar notion for Peter Casella, whose time off included hurricane relief duty in Florida—and part-time work at his hometown grocery store. 

The 2021 Pelican Rapids High School graduate has been in the woods, on the trails, and in disaster zones—all since he earned his diploma.

Casella is pictured here with Mark Dokken, at Larry’s.

He’s been with the non-profit Conservation Corps of Minnesota-Iowa for about a year. His crew was sent to International Falls to assist with flood recovery at the Canadian border, among other assignments. 

On leave in November and December, Casella shipped out to Port Charlotte, Florida. His Hurricane Nicole disaster response squad repaired roofs and cleaned up the carnage, and in the process, Casella rose in the ranks to unit leader. He coordinated daily staff meetings, scheduled teams, and handled transportation and other logistics.

When his assignment was concluded, he returned to his home base in Pelican Rapids. With some downtime on his hands—what the heck—why not take on a part-time, temporary job?

“I worked at Larry’s Super Market when I was in high school,” said Casella, who contacted Larry’s owner Mark Dokken. “I had some down time, so I checked with Mark.” 

Sure enough, there was some temporary work available. So Casella jumped on board for a few weeks—after hurricane duty and before he launches another season of conservation work in Minnesota. 

One of the rewarding experiences while working hurricane relief in Florida for Peter Casella, right, was serving Thanksgiving 2021 m dinner to relief workers.

Working at Larry’s in the Minnesota winter was a sharp contrast to the Florida sunshine and the hurricane destruction and rubble. 

His career goal is yet another sharp contrast. 

“I hope to get my masters degree in environmental science…and do research in Antarctica,” said Casella. After the 2023 conservation season, he plans to enroll at the University of Minnesota-Duluth for the winter-spring 2024 semester. 

Until then, Casella will lead a crew stationed out of Gooseberry Falls and work up and down Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. Park maintenance, forest reclamation, and hiking trail work will be among the duties over the ten-month tour. In the process, he’s planning to study for Emergency Medical Technician accreditation. 

“I’m finding I have a spirit for adventure,” said Casella. “After high school, I really liked life on the road…working in high-intensity scenarios, and unusual and unpredictable circumstances.”

Hurricane Nicole wreaked havoc in Florida
Hurricane Nicole was a sprawling late-season Category 1 hurricane in November 2022.

Pelican Rapids 2021 High School graduate Peter Casella worked on recovery in Florida, November-December.

The fourteenth named storm and eighth hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, Nicole formed as a subtropical cyclone on November 7, from a non-tropical area of low pressure near the Greater Antilles, and transitioned into a tropical cyclone the next day.

Despite being relatively weak, Nicole’s large size produced widespread heavy rainfall and strong winds across the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas, and Florida, knocking out power and inflicting significant damage in many areas.

Eleven deaths altogether have been connected to the storm, six in the Dominican Republic and five in Florida.