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Patrick Air Force Base, Kennedy Space Center Evacuated

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3, 2004 – The only creatures left on the barrier islands of Florida are alligators and rattlesnakes.

As Hurricane Frances approaches Florida, officials ordered the evacuation of 2.5 million people from the barrier islands, low-lying areas and other exposed areas. This includes the personnel of Patrick Air Force Base and the Kennedy Space Center, both in Brevard County.

"We have shut down the installation," said Air Force Lt. Col. Joe Lamarca, the base public affairs officer. "We have some security forces and civil engineers doing some last-minute work, and then we will lock the gates on the two causeways leading to the islands."

The last time all personnel were evacuated from Patrick was during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Then, the base moved its headquarters to the Kennedy Space Center. Now, the space center has been evacuated, and base officials had to scramble to find space to set up. Patrick's 45th Space Wing command center is now based at MacDill Air Force Base, near Tampa, Fla.

"They've been just great to us here," Lamarca said. "You know how we always say the Air Force is a family? It's true. The people here have received us with open arms. They've bent over backwards to help us set up a command center."

Military and civilian personnel at Patrick have left the area and moved to safer places with friends and family. Those without a place to go have been evacuated to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Lamarca said. More than 10,000 people work at the base.

The base launched a satellite aboard an Atlas rocket earlier this week. Since then, workers there and at the space center have worked to ensure equipment and facilities are protected from the storm.

Patrick security forces and civil engineers will "hunker down" near the facilities. As soon as the hurricane passes and the area is declared safe, the units will go back onto the island and check for damage. "We're not bringing people back until we are sure there is no danger," the colonel said.

Forecasters said Frances should hit Florida in afternoon on Sept. 4. The storm is now listed as a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 115 mph and gusts up to 150 mph.

Military bases near the track of the storm have taken precautions. Aircraft have been flown to other bases, ships are standing by with steam up in case they have to sortie, and National Guardsmen in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina are standing by.

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Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.

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