Thursday, September 11, 2008

Texas National Guard evacuates citizens for Hurricane Ike

by Tech. Sgt. Cheryl Hackley National Guard Bureau

Nine Air National Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft from three states configured for medical air evacuation began transporting special-needs patients from the Corpus Christi, Texas, area the morning of Sept. 10 in preparation for Hurricane Ike's expected landfall Sept. 13.

The mission falls under Texas Gov. Rick Perry's Department of Emergency Management plan to evacuate people in at-risk areas from coastal winds and storm surges associated with hurricanes, according to state officials.

"We're evacuating category 1, 2 and 3 special-needs patients from Corpus Christi area hospitals and transporting them to Bryan College Station," said Lt. Col. Greg Perry, the 136th Airlift Wing deputy commander in Forth Worth, Texas.

According to the Department of Health State Services, special-needs patients up to level 3 can include those requiring others for routine care, persons with physical or developmental disabilities such as blindness or hearing impairment and require assistance with mental health disorders.

Six National Guard medical crews are supporting the mission, including three from the 109th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron in Fort Worth, two from the 142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron in New Castle, Del., and one from the 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron in Oklahoma City. The aircraft, if configured for litters, can hold up to 72 patients and six air evacuation crewmembers.

One aircraft each from the 166th Airlift Wing of the Delaware Air National Guard, the 145th Airlift Wing from Charlotte, N.C., and one from the 109th Airlift Wing in Scotia, N.Y., are in Texas for the evacuation efforts in addition to the six C-130s from the 136th AW, Colonel Perry said.

Crews are expected to fly these missions for the next 36 hours. The flight one way takes 85 minutes.

President George W. Bush announced Sept. 10 an emergency declaration and ordered federal aid for 25 counties in south Texas to supplement state and local response efforts due to emergency conditions resulting from Hurricane Ike beginning Sept. 7.

Governor Perry authorized the call-up of up to 7,500 Texas National Guard Soldiers and Airmen to support local, state and federal emergency management officials earlier this week.

Hurricane Ike is currently a Category 1 hurricane. Its center is currently located about 430 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

However, officials stated a west-northwest track is expected to resume and then continue across the central Gulf of Mexico for the next 24 to 48 hours.

"Strengthening is forecasted and Ike may become a major hurricane in the central Gulf of Mexico," said Al Mongeon, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

After Ike makes landfall, the National Guard is ready to provide life-sustaining assistance to the affected areas, said Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada, a spokesperson for the Texas National Guard. This may include establishing points of distribution, search and rescue operations and debris mitigation.

The National Guard search and rescue response package on alert consists of 60 high profile vehicles, 10 UH-60s Blackhawk helicopters and five OH-58 Kiowa helicopters.

The Army and Air National Guard evacuated nearly 17,000 Gulf Coast residents by land and air, including 325 special-needs patients before Hurricane Gustav made landfall in late August.

The 142nd AES was part of that support effort and had only a short break home before heading back to Texas to help set up the mobile aeromedical staging facility at the Corpus International Airport.