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U.S. Assessment Team Arrives in Belize Behind Hurricane Dean

By Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

BELIZE CITY, Belize, Aug. 22, 2007 – About 20 soldiers and airmen from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, deployed here yesterday as part of an initial assessment team following Hurricane Dean.

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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Russell Fairbanks, left, and Air Force Capt. Ernesto Garcia, both assigned to Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, set up a Broadband Global Access Network system shortly after landing in Belize City, Belize, to establish Internet and e-mail access for communication with Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano. The two are part of a group of about 20 soldiers and airmen deployed to provide an initial assessment of the country following Hurricane Dean Aug. 21, 2007. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The then-Category 5 storm slammed into the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula early yesterday, just north of this Central American nation.

The team -- which includes a security detail, medics, engineers, search-and-rescue assets and communications specialists -- was transported via two UH-60 Black Hawks and one CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

Upon arrival, task force personnel took leaders from the Belize Defense Force and American Embassy on a two-hour flight to survey the damage from the storm.

“We went north to Corozal and surveyed the damage along the coast,” said Army Maj. Michael Angell, task force commander for the mission. “We flew around that town, a couple of other villages, and stopped to pick up three Belize Defense Force medics and transport them to another location,” he said.

Based on the initial assessment from yesterday’s flight, Angell said damage to the country’s infrastructure was minimal. “One village had a lot of roofs blown off, billboards blown over, and that was the extent of the damage,” he said.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Heather Prater, a civil engineer deployed from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., flew on the mission with an automated route reconnaissance kit to capture video of the potentially damaged areas. “There was some flooding and trees uprooted,” she said, “but even up around the coast it looks good.”

During the flight, Prater used a hand-held video camera to capture the route of the helicopter. Later, after downloading the data from the reconnaissance system, she was able to provide detailed photos and video that correlated to a global positioning system location, pinpointing the damage on a map.

Although he didn’t see a lot of structural damage, Angell said, damage to crops from wind and flooding could be substantial.

“Agriculturally, they took a huge hit,” he said, referring to extensive damage to sugar cane fields and papaya crops, which Belize is known for.

During the mission, aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk from 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, from Soto Cano, the surveyors also were able to transport three Belizean medics to a nearby village.

A separate mission aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, also from the 1/228th, transported 26 Belize Defense Force infantrymen to outer lying areas that have no police or fire and rescue forces, Angell said.

The team is slated to fly another survey mission today to survey other areas for potential damage.

“We’ll continue to support until they tell us we’re no longer needed,” Angell said.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs is assigned to Joint Task Force Bravo Public Affairs.)

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Related Sites:
Joint Task Force Bravo
U.S. State Department Country Background Note on Belize

Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Maj. Jason Clark, operations officer for the tactical operations center, uses a satellite phone to contact Joint Task Force Bravo headquarters at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, shortly after touching down in Belize City, Belize. About 20 soldiers and airmen from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, deployed to Belize as part of an initial assessment team following Hurricane Dean, Aug. 21, 2007. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of the Belizean Defense Force board a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter to be transported to other areas of the country following the landfall of Hurricane Dean, Aug. 21, 2007. The Chinook, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, transported about 20 U.S. soldiers and airmen to Belize City as part of an initial assessment team following the hurricane. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF  
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