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Florida Guardsmen Act Fast to Keep Key West Citizens Safe

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Special to American Forces Press Service

KEY WEST, Fla., Sept. 9, 2008 – Wading into the waist-deep storm surge from Hurricane Ike this morning, members of the Florida Army National Guard helped local law enforcement officers avert what could have been a disaster for some people ignoring safety warnings.

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A Florida National Guard Special Forces soldier talks with a bicyclist about the unsafe conditions on Rest Beach in Key West, Fla., Sept. 9, 2008. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa, Florida National Guard
  

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As high waves and strong surf from the hurricane buffeted Key West, the soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, were examining the White Street Fishing Pier on the south shore of the city when they noticed about 40 people swimming and playing at the flooded end of the pier.

Even though officials in the Keys urged people to stay indoors, the thrill-seekers – including small children – waded through the choppy water to the barrier at the end of the pier as the three-to-four-foot waves crashed over them.

“This was one of the furthest outreaching piers they have in Key West,” said a staff sergeant who was part of the four-person Special Forces reconnaissance team. “We just went out there to see what the winds were like. As we got out there, the winds picked up from about 40 mph to 60 mph, and we noticed there was a bunch of kids – anywhere from 5 to 10 years old – out there with parents and playing around in the waves.”

The soldier, who is not identified due to security concerns about his normal federal mission, said the Guard unit was working closely with local law enforcement and city emergency management officials to assess damage and flooding from Hurricane Ike.

“It was very unsafe,” he explained. “Within the 20 minutes we were out there, I estimated the winds actually picked up to over 60 mph.”

After warning the swimmers about the dangerous surf, the soldiers reported the activity to Key West police officers who made the decision to clear the pier. The team assisted as a uniformed police officer ordered the swimmers from the dangerous pier.

“Right as we were leaving, things started getting really bad,” the soldier added. “The dock is made of concrete; the high winds and the waves that were coming over could have easily knocked one of the kids down and ground them into the pavement. It wouldn’t have been pretty.”

As rain bands from Hurricane Ike rolled across the Keys, tornado warnings were frequent, and city officials continued to monitor the situation as weather conditions worsened. Earlier today, an overturned truck on U.S. 1 had blocked traffic in and out of the Lower Keys at Mile Marker 72, and minor coastal flooding was prevalent in low-lying areas, according to officials at the Key West Emergency Operations Center.

The Florida Army National Guard soldiers continued damage and flooding assessment patrols throughout the day, assisting Key West emergency responders.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa serves in the Florida National Guard Public Affairs Office.)

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Related Sites:
Florida Department of Military Affairs

Related Articles:
Florida Guardsmen Help Key West Prepare for Ike
Florida National Guard Prepares as Ike Strikes Cuba


Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of the Florida Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, survey storm tide and high surf in Southeast Key West, Fla., Sept. 9, 2008. The area received sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph - gusting to 60 mph - as Hurricane Ike moved to the south of the United States. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa, Florida National Guard  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageTwo soldiers from the Florida Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, pinpoint low-lying areas of Key West, Fla., affected by storm surge from Hurricane Ike, during a morning briefing in the Key West Emergency Operations Center, Sept. 9, 2008. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa, Florida National Guard  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSoldiers from the Florida Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, talk to a resident swimming in the flooded section of the White Street Fishing Pier in Key West, Fla., Sept. 9, 2008. People braved the dangerous conditions at the end of the pier as storm surge from Hurricane Ike crashed over the barriers and flooded the pier. Guardsmen and Key West police officers warned the swimmers of the unsafe conditions, and soon the pier was closed to visitors by city officials. In the background, a man holds a child in the dangerous surf. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa, Florida National Guard  
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