National Guard Mobilized, Alerted for Hurricane Wilma
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2005 More than 3,000 Florida National Guard soldiers and airmen have been mobilized and 3,000 more are on alert, Gov. Jeb Bush said today as Hurricane Wilma's eye was finishing its rapid journey across the southern part of the Florida peninsula.
The storm slammed into southern Florida on the state's Gulf Coast near Cape Romano with sustained winds of 125 mph at about 6:30 this morning. The hurricane exited the peninsula by noon still as a Category 3 storm and was moving northwesterly into the Atlantic Ocean.
Bush reported significant flooding caused by storm surge in the Florida Keys and other parts of the state. Tornado touchdowns have been reported in the central part of the state since Oct. 23, and 2.2 million to 2.5 million homes reportedly are without power.
All of these factors had the governor urging residents to stay inside and off the roads. "We cannot say it enough. It is more dangerous after a storm than it is during the storm," he said, assuring residents that the state's first priority was saving lives and restoring security. "The Florida National Guard is on the move. More than 3,000 soldiers and airmen have been mobilized and another 3,000 are on alert."
He said the second priority was meeting residents' immediate need of food and water. The state has 200 trucks of ice, 225 trucks of water and 86,000 meals stored to meet those needs, he said.
The military continues to stand prepared to offer assistance if it is requested, a U.S. Northern Command spokesman said.
"Florida has the lead on this," the spokesman said. "If they need something then they will ask for our help with it." He said NORTHCOM's role is to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state of Florida if needed.
A Defense Coordinating Element is working at the state emergency operations center in the Florida capital of Tallahassee to help coordinate requests for military assistance. Communications teams also have been pre-positioned throughout the state to assist if needed, the NORTHCOM spokesman said. FEMA is using Homestead Air Reserve Base and Naval Station Mayport as operational staging areas.
The Air Force and Navy also remain on alert awaiting requests for assistance. The Navy had three amphibious ships - USS Trenton, USS Nashville and USS Wasp - on standby since Oct. 21 in anticipation of Wilma's landfall in Florida.
While the Florida National Guard has mobilized troops and has more on alert, the National Guard Bureau reports that more than 350,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen from all over the country stand ready to respond to any request for assistance. The National Guard also has 13,000 soldiers and airmen continuing the recovery efforts in areas affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
During a photo opportunity after a Cabinet meeting today, President Bush expressed confidence in the federal response to Hurricane Wilma, saying he had spoken with the Florida governor Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and acting FEMA director R. David Paulison.
"I signed a major disaster declaration today," the president said. "We have pre-positioned food, medicine, communications equipment, urban search and rescue teams. We will work closely with local and state authorities to respond to this hurricane."