Michael causes ‘catastrophic’ dam­age at Air Force base

Houston Chronicle - - NATION | WORLD -

TYN­DALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Tyn­dall Air Force Base suf­fered catastrophic dam­age when Hur­ri­cane Michael tore through the Florida Pan­han­dle, rip­ping roofs off air­plane hangars, toss­ing ve­hi­cles around a park­ing lot and leav­ing a fighter jet that had been on dis­play flipped over on the ground.

The home to the na­tion’s 325th Fighter Wing “took a beat­ing,” Col. Brian Laid­law said in a let­ter posted Thurs­day night to the 3,600 men and women sta­tioned at the base lo­cated 12 miles east of Panama City. The Air Force evac­u­ated the base in ad­vance of the storm’s ar­rival Wednesday af­ter­noon.

“I will not re­call you and your fam­i­lies un­til we can guar­an­tee your safety. At this time I can’t tell you how long that will take, but I’m on it,” Laid­law wrote. “We need to re­store ba­sic util­i­ties, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and as­sess the struc­tural in­tegrity of our build­ings. I know that you are ea­ger to re­turn. I ask you to be pa­tient and try to fo­cus on tak­ing care of your fam­i­lies and each other.”

The evac­u­a­tions were or­dered Mon­day and ev­ery­one ex­cept the “ride-out” team left the base by Tues­day af­ter­noon. Michael was a strong Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane as it lashed the base, which is be­tween Panama City and Mex­ico Beach.

On Thurs­day, Air Force of­fi­cials con­ducted the first ae­rial as­sess­ment of the base and found ex­ten­sive dam­age. A re­port posted on the base web­site said the flight line is dev­as­tated and ev­ery build­ing on the base suf­fered se­vere dam­age, with many con­sid­ered a com­plete loss. In ad­di­tion, the Tyn­dall marina, the drone run­way and Tyn­dall El­e­men­tary School sus­tained se­vere dam­age.

A num­ber of air­craft were left in the hangars due to safety or main­te­nance rea­sons and all of the hangars are dam­aged, said Ann Ste­fanek, a spokes­woman for the Air Force. “We an­tic­i­pate the air­craft parked in­side may be dam­aged as well, but we won’t know the ex­tent un­til our crews can safely en­ter those hangars and make an as­sess­ment.”

The 325th Fighter Wing flies the F-22 stealth fighter, the most ex­pen­sive fighter jet in the Air Force arse­nal at about $339 mil­lion per air­craft.

“The Air Force re­mains ca­pa­ble of ex­e­cut­ing its com­bat mis­sion across the world with air­craft from other bases, as well as those that were evac­u­ated from Tyn­dall in ad­vance of the hur­ri­cane,” Ste­fanek said.

Laid­law said power and ba­sic util­i­ties have not been re­stored to the base. In the let­ter to staff, Laid­law said crews will need time to clear trees from roads and re­pair power lines be­fore any­one re­turns.

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