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Florida Guardsmen Provide Relief in Area Damaged by Tornadoes

By Senior Airman Thomas Kielbasa, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

PARKER, Fla., Sept. 20, 2004 – Although the western tip of the Florida panhandle took the brunt of damage from Hurricane Ivan, some communities further east in the were ravaged by tornadoes accompanying the storm.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Staff Sgt. Harold Simpson (center) and Army Sgt. James Hope of C Battery, 265th Air Defense Artillery Regiment from Daytona Beach, Fla., load ice and water into a truck at a supply distribution point in Parker, Fla., Sept. 17. Photo by Senior Airman Thomas Kielbasa, USAF

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

In some of these communities, including here, Florida National Guard soldiers are distributing needed supplies to those without electricity.

On Sept. 17, more than 30 soldiers from the Daytona Beach-based Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery Regiment were in Parker helping to distribute ice and water to residents of the area affected by Hurricane Ivan.

Although the Category 3 hurricane made landfall in Alabama, heavy winds, rain, tornadoes and storm surge along the northeast side of Ivan left much of Pensacola, Fla., and some of Florida's panhandle, in ruins.

According to Parker Police Chief Charles Sweatt, the National Guard contingent was badly needed in his city southeast of Panama City, where between 5,000 and 6,000 residents were still without power as of Sept. 17.

"We're probably looking at 70 percent of our population currently without any form of power," Sweatt said. According to Sweatt and members of the local fire department, several tornadoes tore through Parker late Sept. 15, wrecking some structures and bringing down trees and power lines.

"We utilized the National Guard right after the storm passed through in our traffic-control operations and security details in our most damaged areas," Sweatt explained. "We couldn't have done it without them -- it was just overwhelming. We're a small city and when you get hurricane-force winds like this, you need all the help you can get."

While electrical-repair crews were pouring into Parker to re-establish power, the Florida National Guardsmen at the supply distribution center alongside Business Route 98 were serving a steady stream of residents seeking clean water and bags of ice.

"Thank you and God bless," an elderly woman said to Army Staff Sgt. Harold Simpson and Sgt. Jerome Hope, both of C Battery, after they loaded bags of ice into the back of her battered pickup truck.

Police Chief Sweatt said the distribution center was also serving residents from other local areas without power, including people from the entire eastern side of Bay County.

On Sept. 17, the Guardsmen unloaded and distributed two tractor-trailer trucks and a smaller cargo truck of ice, and one truck full of bottled water.

More than 5,000 members of the Florida National Guard are on state active duty assisting with hurricane-relief efforts in Florida.

(Air Force Senior Airman Thomas Kielbasa is assigned to Florida National Guard public affairs.)

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