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Military Bases Assess Damage; Keesler AFB Hardest Hit

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2005 – Military bases in the path of Hurricane Katrina and its resulting floodwaters were continuing to assess damage today while reaching out to affected servicemembers and their families to provide support.

Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., appears to have received the heaviest damage after taking a direct hit from the Category 4 hurricane.

Base officials started assessment and recovery operations Aug. 30 and by evening, provided the first hot meals to the 6,000 military members, civilians and family members who weathered the storm at the base, all escaping without injury.

"Initial reports show drastic damage to the industrial and housing areas," said Maj. Ray Mottley, commander of the 81st Civil Engineering Squadron. A complete damage assessment, to be conducted with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is expected to provide a more complete picture.

About 50 percent of the base was under water, and the commissary, base exchange and some base housing units were flooded with more than six feet of water, Mottley reported. Generators were in place to keep critical facilities operating, but Mottley said the base hospital and much of the base remains without power.

However, Keesler's airfield remains operational during daylight hours, and it has a fully operational sewage system and access to drinking water, Mottley said.

In the meantime, base officials are advising evacuees not to return to the base area until directed to do so, probably not before Sept. 2, and to monitor the base Web site at www.keesler.af.mil or call the Air Force Personnel Center at (800) 435-9941 for updates and instructions. Officials also advise Keesler residents who are able to do so to contact their families to let them know they're OK.

Airmen scheduled to report to Keesler for technical training are advised not to proceed with their plans until further notice. A stop-movement order remains in effect for Keesler, the 361st Training Squadron's Detachment 2 at Pensacola, Fla., and the 366th Training Squadron's Detachment 6 at Gulfport, Miss., Air Force officials said.

Six other Air Force bases are now back to normal operations, officials reported. These are Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field and Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.; Barksdale Air Force Base, La.; Columbus Air Force Base, Miss.; and Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

Navy officials were still assessing damage to bases in the hurricane-ravaged area: Naval Air Station New Orleans, La.; Naval Support Activity New Orleans; Naval Station Pascagoula, Miss.; Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, Miss.; and Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.

Navy Lt. Trey Brown, a Navy spokesman, said evacuation orders in place for installations in both New Orleans and Gulfport were expected to be extended today for New Orleans.

A toll-free number the Navy set up Aug. 30 for affected sailors and their families "is already getting a lot of calls," Brown said. The line, staffed around the clock by active-duty Navy volunteers, will provide callers help regarding the status of Navy family members.

Nearly 700 Marines and almost 1,400 of their family members were evacuated from Marine Forces Reserve Headquarters New Orleans, leaving only essential personnel behind. The headquarters staff was organizing today to support the Marine Corps' response to the hurricane relief effort, according to Maj. Jason Johnston, a Headquarters Marine Corps spokesman.

The status of historic Jackson Barracks in New Orleans, home of the Louisiana National Guard, could not immediately be confirmed, due to intermittent phone service to the city. However, almost 3,800 Louisiana Army and Air Guard members were on duty to remove debris, provide security and shelter, distribute water, food and ice, and offer medical and law-enforcement support, National Guard Bureau officials said.

Contact information for servicemembers and their families are:

Navy: (877) 414-5358; www.navy.mil Air Force: (800) 435-9941; www.keesler.af.mil

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