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Florida Emergency Responders Ready, Waiting For ‘Ernesto’

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2006 – Florida National Guard and reserve forces, as well as other state and federal emergency responders, are ready and waiting for now-tropical storm “Ernesto’s” arrival tonight or early tomorrow, a state military official said today.

“Our forces are mobilized and ready,” Florida Air National Guard Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, spokesman for the state’s joint forces headquarters in Tallahassee, said during a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service.

Florida has activated more than 1,000 military and civilian emergency responders in preparation for Ernesto, Tittle said, while state officials also coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Northern Command, and other organizations.

“It’s really encouraging,” Tittle added, “when you see how the state agencies work together and with our federal partners.”

Tourists have already been evacuated from the Florida Keys, Tittle said. Ernesto is now packing 45 mph winds and forecasters predict it will probably near Florida’s southern tip sometime tonight. After landfall the storm is expected to take a northerly route up Florida’s middle, Tittle said, exiting somewhere midway along the state’s Atlantic Ocean coast.

Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, an Air Guard officer, is working closely with Governor Jeb Bush, Tittle said, in coordinating emergency response preparations as Ernesto moves closer to Florida. Ernesto has weakened from hurricane to tropical storm status, but it still dumped seven inches of rain on Cuba last night.

Tittle acknowledged that state and federal emergency responders have alternate plans to address changing conditions if Ernesto would gain strength or move in another direction.

For example, up to 9,500 Guard and reserve members, Tittle said, are ready if Ernesto regains hurricane status, with accompanying 74 mph wind velocity, or more.

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