U.S. Air Force bases located in Florida’s panhandle are readying for Hurricane Michael, with some installations ordering mandatory personnel evacuations ahead of the Category 2 storm.
Tyndall Air Force Base on Monday ordered the evacuation of all on-and-off-base personnel ahead of the hurricane, which is set to make landfall Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“It’s important to know that this order applies to all Tyndall assigned military personnel regardless if they live on base or not,” Col. Jefferson Hawkins, vice commander of the 325th Fighter Wing, said in a release. “People are our most important resource, and we’re committed to protecting them.”
Wind gusts could reach between 90 and 110 miles per hour, and the storm has the potential to increase to a Category 3, NHC officials have said. Water levels are also expected to rise.
Tyndall airmen and civilians, including those in base housing, must be off the installation by 3 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Personnel may use their government-issued credit cards “for any expenses incurred during this evacuation,” the release said, adding they will be reimbursed for any travel expenses of at least 100 miles, but no more than 500 miles, from the base.
Aircraft have been moved from Tyndall to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, as a precaution. The base houses F-22 Raptors, T-38 Talons and QF-16s — F-16 Fighting Falcons converted into unmanned aircraft. Officials did not specify how many aircraft had been moved.
F-35AJoint Strike Fighters will also be moved from Eglin Air Force Base ahead of the storm, according to the Pensacola News Journal. ABC News reported that the F-35s were moved to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and that F-16s and F-15 Eagles belonging to test wings at the base were also being evacuated.
The 96th Test Wing commander “will decide about the return to normal base operations Oct. 10,” according to a release.
“Reporting times for base personnel will be posted on Facebook and the base website when finalized,” the release states. Only “mission-essential” service members were selected to report for normal duty hours Tuesday to finish base preparations, officials said.
Hurlburt Field, home of the Air Force’s special tactics airmen, will close at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the base said. Any military or civilian employees in non-essential roles will be dismissed until further notice.
AC-130J Ghostrider and AC-130U Spooky gunships, MC-130H Combat Talon IIs and PC-12s — known as the U-28 reconnaissance aircraft — have been evacuated to Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. It was not immediately clear whether other aircraft at the base, such as the CV-22 Osprey, were moved or if they will remain at the base, stowed in hangars.
Meanwhile, special operations airmen are on standby if called upon for rescue missions during the storm.
“We stand ready to support relief operations in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local authorities, and international partners,” a 1st Special Operations Wing release states. “Airmen are prepared to assist those in need by providing capabilities such as search and rescue and personnel recovery, airlift of humanitarian supplies, medical care and aeromedical evacuation.”
Naval Air Station Pensacola said it would close facilities across the base Tuesday, including Corry Station, Saufley Field and the National Naval Aviation Museum. The base’s child development and youth centers, as well as the exchange and commissary, will close by 6 p.m., NAS Pensacola said in a Facebook post.
“All facilities onboard the base will remain closed through Wednesday,” it said. “Pending significant changes in weather forecast, the base and all facilities will reopen and resume normal operations on Thursday.”
The Navy evacuated some of its trainers ahead of the storm, ABC News said. NAS Pensacola keeps T-45 Goshawk and T-6 Texan II trainer aircraft. Some of the trainers will be secured or hangared at the base, ABC said, while others will be moved to NAS Whiting Field near Milton, Florida.
The Navy’s Blue Angels, normally housed at the base, recently wrapped flying during San Francisco’s Fleet Week and head next to Nevada.
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