As Hurricane Michael ripped into the Florida Panhandle, U.S. Northern Command boss Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said his planners in Colorado Springs were ready to deal with the storm’s aftermath.
“We are surrounding the storm,” O’Shaughnessy told reporters during a Pentagon news conference.
Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base is responsible for defending the continent from attack and provides Defense Department assistance in natural disasters. Hurricane Michael, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane was centered on Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, a key hub for the command’s fighter jets.
O’Shaughnessy said he established a command center to replace Tyndall’s role in aerial defense while rolling out more than 2,200 troops, mostly search and rescue forces, to race in after the storm when needed.
The general said search and rescue is key, because of how Michael quickly grew in size and severity.
“The way the storm developed was much different than we have seen at the past,” O’Shaughnessy said.
That means that civilians had less warning to allow them to flee the storm, and O’Shaughnessy fears that thousands could need rescue.
Air Force and Army helicopters, flood-capable trucks and boats have been flow to locations to the north, south, east and west of the storm, O’Shaughnessy said.
The Pentagon is especially wary of the hurricane, which stretches across a region that’s loaded with military bases, from the Naval Air Station at Pensacola to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
O’Shaughnessy said the region in Michael’s path — which stretches from Florida into the Carolinas includes 10 military bases, including 700,000 troops and family members.
Northern Command still has forces helping the coastal Carolinas to recover from Hurricane Florence, a storm that brought less wind than Michael, but caused widespread flooding when it dropped feet of rain.
For Michael, the command has readied scores of generators, medical teams and air ambulance crews in additional to search and rescue troops, O’Shaughnessy said.