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Defense Department Readies Help as Ike Approaches Landfall

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 12, 2008 – With Hurricane Ike forecast to make landfall tonight or early tomorrow on the Texas coast, the Defense Department already is assisting civilian agencies.

U.S. Northern Command, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., is coordinating DoD’s support.

The storm is expected to hit the coast as a strong Category 2 or possible Category 3 hurricane. A Category 2 storm has winds between 96 and 110 mph. A Category 3 has 111 to 130 mph winds. The storm surge is expected to be between 15 and 20 feet, officials said.

U.S. Transportation Command has evacuated more than 400 patients from Corpus Christi and Beaumont, Texas.

Defense coordinating elements are in place at federal and state emergency centers all along the Gulf Coast, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today.

Six DoD bases have been designated as staging and logistics bases in advance of Hurricane Ike. They are: Marine Logistics Base, Albany, Ga.; Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.; Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss.; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Some of those installations will provide lodging for Federal Emergency Management Agency urban search-and-rescue teams, Whitman said.

More than 1,500 active duty personnel are in a “prepare to deploy” status due to the storm.

NorthCom has more than 50 aircraft available for the response effort, and the USS Nassau is loading disaster relief supplies in Norfolk, Va.

“We are also looking at having a disaster relief team going aboard that,” Whitman said. The team would have a surgical team, utility landing craft and other support, he added.

The Nassau would support “what would be DoD’s primary mission, which would be to save and sustain lives and relieve suffering,” Whitman said.

About 11 million packaged meals are cached at sites in Louisiana and Texas, and another 50 million are available if needed. Trucks and flat-bottomed boats have been pre-positioned and will be ready to go into affected areas in the aftermath of the storm.

U.S. Air Forces Northern is establishing a search-and-rescue unit in preparation of Hurricane Ike landfall and in support of Texas Search and Rescue. The 331st Air Expeditionary Group is responsible for search-and-rescue operations, and will be located at Randolph Air Force Base. The unit’s helicopters can fly once the wind drops below 50 knots.

NorthCom also has ready to deploy a wide-area damage assessment capability that comprises manned and unmanned aircraft that can gauge the extent of damage once the storm passes. Officials used the assets to chart the California wildfires and in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav.

Bases along the path of the storm are reacting also, Whitman said. Air bases are evacuating or “hangaring” aircraft. “We are getting critical DoD assets in the path of the hurricane out of the way,” Whitman said.

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