National Guardsmen Assisting in Wilma's Wake
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
Aircrews have airlifted hospital patients in the Florida Keys, and communications teams are providing satellite, video and radio communication capabilities to assist emergency workers in their operations, Guard officials said. The communications packages provide "crossband" capability, enabling emergency workers with incompatible communications equipment to talk to one another.
Under the national Emergency Management Assistance Compact, troops from the North Carolina, South Carolina and New York National Guards have deployed to Florida to help in hurricane-relief operations. The compact establishes a partnership among states to provide aid and assistance during emergencies. When states request assistance through EMAC, the compact makes it easier for member states to send personnel and equipment to help in disaster-relief operations.
"New York State's Emergency Management Office and National Guard continue to answer the call for assistance whenever or wherever help is needed," New York Gov. George Pataki said as the storm approached.
More than 3,000 Florida National Guard members are on state active duty, mobilized by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the wake of the storm.
State officials say the storm is responsible for at least six deaths and knocked out electrical power to roughly 6 million people in southern Florida. Officials estimate damage to be in the billions of dollars. Some Floridians are expected to be without electrical power for several weeks.
As Wilma trekked eastward to Florida's Atlantic Coast soldiers deployed to Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Collier counties, locales that appeared to be the hardest hit.
At Homestead Air Reserve Base, located about 30 minutes south of Miami, the Air Reserve's 482nd Fighter Wing was assessing damage to the base. Before the storm the Reservists had relocated their F-16C Fighting Falcons and F-15 Strike Eagles to Georgia and Texas.
Patrick Air Force Base, four hours north of Miami, closed as Wilma swept across the peninsula but has been given the all-clear, and personnel have begun to report back to work. Tornadoes spawned from Hurricane Wilma struck communities around Patrick.
Aside from communications and airlift support, Florida has not asked for assistance from the Defense Department, Air Force officials said today. Air Force liaison officers stationed in every state and in 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency regional offices help coordinate Air Force responses to disasters through FEMA and state emergency-operation centers.
President Bush declared sections of Florida major disaster areas Oct. 24 and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in areas struck by Wilma. Federal assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the impact of Wilma.
"We continue to work in support of the state of Florida as they respond in the aftermath of the storm," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today. "Florida was well-prepared and -positioned to respond to the storm. The state is doing a great job."
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