Texas Guard Begins Evacuating Patients Before Hurricane Ike Hits
By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cheryl Hackley
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Sep. 10, 2008 The Texas National Guard began evacuating special-needs patients from the Corpus Christi area this morning in preparation for Hurricane Ike, expected to make landfall in Texas on Sept. 13.
Nine Air National Guard C-130 transport aircraft from three states are configured for medical air evacuation and performing the operation, evacuating people in at-risk areas from coastal winds and storm surges associated with hurricanes, state officials said.
“We’re evacuating … special-needs patients from Corpus Christi area hospitals and transporting them to Bryan-College Station,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Perry, deputy commander of the 136th Airlift Wing based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Special-needs patients include those requiring others for routine care, people with physical or developmental disabilities such as blindness or hearing impairment, and those require assistance with mental health disorders, officials said.
Six National Guard medical crews are supporting the mission, including three from the 109th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron in Fort Worth, two from the 142nd AES in New Castle, Del., and one from the 137th AES in Oklahoma City. The aircraft, if configured for litters, can hold up to 72 patients and six air evacuation crew members.
One aircraft each from the 166th Airlift Wing from Delaware, 145th AW in Charlotte, N.C., and one from the 109th AW in Scotia, N.Y., are in Texas for the evacuation efforts in addition to the six from the 136th Airlift Wing, Perry said.
Crews are expected to fly these missions for the next 36 hours, and the flight one way is about an hour and 25 minutes long.
President Bush announced an emergency declaration today and ordered federal aid for 25 counties in south Texas to supplement state and local response efforts due to emergency conditions resulting from Hurricane Ike as of Sept. 7.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry authorized the call-up of up to 7,500 Texas National Guard soldiers and airmen to support local, state and federal emergency management officials earlier this week.
At 5 p.m. EDT today, Ike’s center was about 720 miles east of Brownsville, Texas, moving northwest at 8 mph. Maximum sustained winds near the center were 100 mph.
“Strengthening is forecasted, and Ike may become a major hurricane in the central Gulf of Mexico,” said Al Mongeon, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. After Ike makes landfall, the National Guard is ready to provide life-sustaining assistance to the affected areas, said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada, a spokeswoman for the Texas National Guard. This may include establishing points of distribution, search and rescue operations and debris mitigation, she explained.
The National Guard search-and-rescue response package on alert consists of 60 high-profile vehicles, 10 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and five OH-58 Kiowa helicopters.
Less than two weeks ago, the Army and Air National Guard evacuated nearly 17,000 Gulf Coast residents by land and air, including 325 special-needs patients, before Hurricane Gustav made landfall.
The 142nd AES was part of that support effort and had only a short break at home before heading back to Texas to help set up the mobile aeromedical staging facility at the Corpus International Airport.
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cheryl Hackley serves at the National Guard Bureau.)