Air Force Evacuates Thousands; Crews, Aircraft Standing By
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2005 As part of a comprehensive, government-led hurricane-relief effort, the U.S. Air Force evacuated nearly 2,000 Gulf Coast residents from the path of Hurricane Rita Sept. 22.
The evacuees were brought to safe havens throughout the southeastern United States. The Air Force, meanwhile, has strategically positioned its planes, personnel, and equipment to further assist with the relief effort, official said.
In a 24-hour period, 827 airmen -- 805 Air National Guardsmen and Reservists and 22 active-duty personnel -- worked feverishly to aeromedically evacuate nearly 1,240 of the most vulnerable citizens threatened by Hurricane Rita, Air Force officials said.
The evacuees included newborn babies, senior citizens living in nursing homes and adult-care facilities, and those simply left behind in the mass exodus from the coast.
Officials estimate that more than 1.5 million people fled the Gulf region because of Hurricane Rita. The Air Force evacuated roughly 700 residents who could not or did not escape. Evacuees were flown to one of eight different secure locations via Air Force C-5, C-17 and C-141 aircraft. Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, is housing the greatest number of evacuees, officials said.
Nineteen critically ill children and families and 48 intensive care-unit nurses were evacuated from the Houston Children's Medical Center to the Arkansas Children's Medical Center via an Air National Guard C-130 aircraft. An Air National Guard C-130 and its crew also returned 60 patients to Key West, Fla., from a safe haven in Charlotte, N.C.
The Air Force has flown a total of 61 aeromedical evacuation missions Sept. 23 and 74 aero-medical evacuation missions overall in response to Hurricane Rita. An additional nine aeromedical evacuation missions were planned for today, officials said.
Air Force Hurricane Hunters with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron landed this morning after completing their final hurricane observation and data-collection mission for Hurricane Rita, as the storm was rapidly weakening as it made landfall.
However, the Air Force Eagle Vision Program continues to capture nonstop satellite imagery of the Texas and Louisiana coastlines to help facilitate an adequate response to problems caused by flooded roadways, airfields and supply routes, officials said.
Air Force officials said they will continue to proactively assist civilian authorities as needed. Toward that end, an Air Force director of mobility forces, contingency response group, and medical planning team are all forward deployed to Austin, Texas, to coordinate necessary relief efforts.
A contingency-response group is a rapid-response force that has an airfield-opening capability. Such a capability is critical to the arrival of initial support at damaged airfields and other trouble spots, officials said. Other Air Force airlift, medical support, reconnaissance, communications, and logistics assets on standby for hurricane-relief efforts include:
- Elements from the 615th Contingency Response Wing at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and the 621st CRW, at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J;
- Air Force airlifters prepared to facilitate movement of Defense Department assets into the affected areas;
- Thirteen HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters on the tarmac at Randolph Air Force Base, in San Antonio, for any necessary search-and-rescue efforts;
- Reconnaissance and communications capabilities that can be tailored to various response requirements; and
- Three air expeditionary groups, with a wide spectrum of recovery capabilities.
Elements of Air Force Space Command's 20th Air Force, including 10 airmen, four civilian contractors, and two UH-1N Huey helicopters from the 54th Helicopter Flight at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., are preparing to deploy to the Gulf region to provide food, water and medical supplies to evacuees and displaced residents. These personnel will rendezvous with four other helicopters from F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, and Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., before heading south to assist with hurricane-relief efforts, officials said.
"The Air Force is planning ahead and marshalling its forces to be prepared to go into action if the call comes." Air Force Col. Dan Adams, 91st Space Wing commander, said.
(Compiled from U.S. Air Force news releases.)