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Hurricane Sally inflicts wind, water damage at NAS Pensacola; Florida Guard aiding aftermath

The effects of Hurricane Sally were still being felt across the Northern Gulf states on Friday, as military and civilian crews worked to assess and repair the damage.

The Category 2 hurricane hit Gulf Shores, Alabama, some 30 miles southwest of Naval Air Station Pensacola, Wednesday morning with 105-mph winds, AccuWeather reported.

The air station sustained some wind and rain destruction, with downed trees and many of its structures succumbing to water leaks. The base is currently conducting further damage assessments.

“We’re very fortunate,” said Jason Bortz, public affairs officer for the base, in a phone call with Military Times on Friday. “We did take damage, but there were no injuries.”

The base is opening its airfield to flights. Parts of the base have power and crews are working to restore electricity to others.

As of Friday, almost 369,000 people in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and some parts of Georgia were still without power.

“We’re happy we were able to get the galley up and operational,” Bortz said. “There are several thousand students here and they spent a night eating MREs, so they’re sure happy about it.”

Bortz wanted to thank the local community for assisting the base, which doesn’t have the resources other installations have to assist its community with any search and rescue efforts.

“Pensacola isn’t new to catastrophe and has always been great,” Bortz said. “The Red Cross was out here handing out sandwiches. It’s great seeing the community come together.”

The Florida National Guard used high-water trucks and other rescue equipment to assist residents of Escambia and Okaloosa counties in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2020.
The Florida National Guard used high-water trucks and other rescue equipment to assist residents of Escambia and Okaloosa counties in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2020.

To the north and east of Pensacola in Escambia and Okaloosa counties, elements of the Florida National Guard launched rescue efforts. Guardsmen with the 753rd Brigade Engineer Battalion and 1-153 Cavalry were part of task forces working with their civilian partners using high-water vehicles and other rescue equipment to help evacuate flooded neighborhoods.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sally, some 500 Guard soldiers and airmen were deployed to help local authorities evacuate 113 people, the Associated Press reported. On Friday, some 35 people were reportedly rescued by guardsmen with high-water trucks in areas surrounding Mobile, Alabama.

In Alabama, on both sides of Mobile Bay, National Guard soldiers from high-water evacuation teams used big trucks Thursday to rescue at least 35 people, authorities said.

Keesler Air Force Base, near Biloxi, Mississippi, didn’t sustain any significant damage, a spokesperson with the 81st Training Wing told Military Times on Friday.

“We have a marina here and couple of boards broke loose, but Sally almost completely missed us,” said Maj. Joshua Daniels, chief of public affairs, during a phone call. “We were really prepared, but no real issue happened here.”

Daniels cited the Keesler’s COVID-19 protocols for helping the base continue its training in adverse environments where social distancing is a necessity.

“So that helps us in hurricanes,” Daniels said. “Even though we sheltered in place, our students were able to continue to learn.”

The 81st facilitates a majority of the technical training in the Air Force and does weather training for the entire Department of Defense.

The Air Force base also hosts the 403rd Wing and the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as the “Hurricane Hunters.”

“A lot of the pilots are flying right now,” said spokesperson Staff Sgt. Shelton in a call with Military Times on Friday. “They fly in storms to gather data so that they can track the storms and get further insight into them.”

The data is then given to the National Hurricane Center to update storm forecast notifications.

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