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Batter up! MacDill 2-0 against hurricanes

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer
Photo by Senior Airman Andrea Thacker

This tree was one of the few casualties. Thankfully, no personnel were injured.

Charley struck out while Frances was a base hit, and MacDill disaster readiness officials are hoping Ivan is an opponent they won't have to face.

Following the second hurricane scare in as many weeks with Hurricane Ivan drawing a bead on

Florida, MacDill's emergency preparedness pros are hoping bad things don't come in threes. With damages already estimated at more than $1 million, base officials are concerned that another hurricane would multiply those damages exponentially.

MacDill emergency planning personnel usually have to dream up readiness training scenarios, but after Charley and Frances -- and now Ivan -- Mother Nature seems to have taken the job over for them.

MacDill weathered Hurricane Frances with no major damage, but there was a lot of "little damage," from winds, rain and a surging Tampa Bay, which filled the low-lying areas of the base with water, said Larry Clarke, 6th Civil Engineer Squadron readiness manager. Branches and some trees came tumbling down, and other minor wind damage left things a little messy. Power was out in some of the residential areas due to an "on-base" failure but most buildings lost power for no longer than an hour. The storm surge from the west, and southwest winds after Frances entered the Gulf, pushed water from Tampa Bay onto the beaches and along Bayshore Boulevard. Sod along the east shore of the base likely will have to be replaced due to poisoning by the salt water and there was some beach erosion behind Seascapes at the Fam Camp beach, said Mr. Clarke.

The driving range at the golf course was covered with Bay water, but Mr. Clarke said it is a hardy strain of grass and may survive the salty soaking. Some 20 to 30 trees were broken or uprooted.

By Tuesday morning, unit cleanup crews had most debris in neat piles by the curb. While the limbs and other debris were awaiting pickup, Mr. Clarke and crew were awaiting Hurricane Ivan.

"I hope it's (Ivan) not something we have to worry about," said Randy Ray, 6th CES disaster training chief.

Mr. Ray spent the weekend camped at Raymond James Stadium, where he set up a command base to support MacDill in case the storm became more severe than expected.

Frances pounded the area with strong winds and rain but because it lost so much of its punch coming across state and there was not a threat of storm surge, there was no need to evacuate MacDill, as was done during Hurricane Charley.

"We evacuate because of storm surge," said Mr. Clarke. "The buildings on MacDill are as wind proof as any, so unless it is a category 4, we don't really worry about wind."

Still, precautions were taken. Aircraft were relocated to avoid possible damage and crews were on standby to move quickly if things had turned for the worse, said Mr. Clarke. He had five of his people working over the weekend and they put in 120 hours between them.

"This is getting a little tiring," said Mr. Ray, who two weeks prior set up command and control at the Florida State Fairgrounds due to Charley. "Speaking personally, I'd like to have a weekend I don't have to spend at the Fairgrounds or Raymond James."

Mr. Ray said storms threatening MacDill so close together is unprecedented.

As of press time it had not been determined if the base will evacuate due to Ivan. A meeting was scheduled for today to decide the response, said Mr. Clarke.




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