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Homeland Security

Convoys roll behind Hurricane Wilma

By Gary Sheftick

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 24, 2005) — As Hurricane Wilma hit southwestern Florida this morning, more than 3,000 National Guard members were on state active duty with another 3,000 on high alert.

Guard convoys began rolling at 7:45 a.m. toward the three southern counties hit first and hardest by the storm, officials said. The Category 3 hurricane made landfall about 6:30 a.m. at Cape Romano, Fla., about 20 miles west of Everglades City, with sustained winds up to 125 mph. The storm then roared cross the Florida peninsula toward Palm Beach.

“The storm was still passing over Florida and the Guard troops were moving in on the back end,” said Jon Myatt, director of public affairs for the Florida Department of Military Affairs.

Troops had been positioned across the state, mostly north of Route 4, Myatt said, to ride out the storm and then head south to help with security and law enforcement, search and rescue, damage assessment and the distribution of relief supplies.

Mission One: Security

The first convoys to head into the stricken areas were from the 3rd Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery, Myatt said. He said one of their first missions was to check for damaged bridges and roads.

“If bridges are down, or roads are down, we guard those places and direct traffic around them,” Myatt said. He added that if communities are without electricity, Guard troops will set up checkpoints and augment local law enforcement.

Search and Rescue

Guard troops also began search and rescue operations this morning, Myatt said, looking for citizens cut off by flood waters. If necessary, Guard aircraft will transport survivors to medical care facilities, Myatt said.

“We know the places that are prone to flooding,” he said.

“We’ve been through this before,” Myatt said, referring to the four major hurricanes that hit Florida last year and the four times the state’s Guard has been mobilized for storms so far this year.

Staging relief supplies

Relief supplies for Wilma were pre-positioned in warehouses across southern Florida and staged in hundreds of National Guard trucks at locations such as Homestead, Lakeland and West Palm Beach, Fla.

Some of the staging areas were hit harder than expected by the hurricane, Myatt said. “Damage assessment teams will check our own people first,” he said, referring to the truck drivers and warehouse personnel.

The Guard teams will then determine which areas most need relief supplies such as food, water and ice, Myatt said. The teams will set up distribution sites, he said, first planning for traffic patterns and other logistics, before calling forward the trucks loaded with Meals Ready to Eat.

Pre-positioned supplies included more than 60,000 packaged meals such as MREs and more than 100,000 liters of water.

Building air, sea bridges

If bridges are down or parts of the Florida Keys are cut off, the National Guard will build establish “air and sea bridges” by flying in supplies, or bringing them in via watercraft, said Capt. Diana Travis of the Florida National Guard.

Supplies can be sling-loaded from helicopters or flown in on other air assets, she said.

Planning continues

Planning for Hurricane Wilma began by dividing the counties expected to be hit into three zones, Myatt said. Three counties in southwestern Florida were in the Red Zone, the first area to be hit. Two counties were in the Blue Zone, the second impact area, and others were in the Yellow Zone, Myatt said.

The National Guard convoys rolled into the Red Zone this morning to begin operations, Myatt said. He added that he plans to fly into the Blue Zone this evening on Florida’s east coast to help begin operations there.

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