Tuesday, September 12, 2017

TOP STORY >> Local efforts after hurricane

Little Rock Air Force Base participated in disaster-relief efforts for the second time in two weeks after another devastating hurricane.

The base’s 41st Airlift Squadron, part of the 19th Airlift Wing, transported more than 100 medical personnel to Orlando on Saturday to prepare for the response to Hurricane Irma.

The storm morphed into a tropical storm by early Monday, dumping rain in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. The rain here on Tuesday was also from Irma’s remnants.

The 41st Airlift Squadron flew to Dallas and Houston, Texas, to pick up U.S. Public Health Service Rapid Deployment Force personnel and Disaster Medical Assistance Teams from Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, and their medical equipment.

“Our mission is to assist in response to Hurricane Irma,” said Ronda Lacey, commander of the Alabama-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team. “We’re here to help the state of Florida and the people who are in need of medical assistance there. It’s an honor to help our country in this critical time.”

Doctors, registered nurses, mid-level technicians, a dentist and an infectious disease specialist were among the U.S. Public Health Service and Disaster Medical Assistance Team personnel prepared to support relief efforts. The responders brought medical equipment like pharmaceuticals, oxygen tanks, triage kits and basic first-aid supplies.

Staff Sgt. Efrain Huereque, a 41st Airlift Squadron loadmaster, said, “Even though we don’t get to do this often, it’s very rewarding. It feels good to help people in need.”

A press release from the base noted the mission was part of a coordinated effort with civilian agencies.

Nurse paramedic Jessica Picanzo with the Tennesse-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team said, “It’s a joint effort. We received a notification 12 hours ago, and now we’re in the air. We’re able to respond so quickly because of our military partners.”

Before Hurricane Irma’s arrival, several aircraft and their crews from Hurlburt Field, an Air Force installation in the west of Florida’s panhandle, sought refuge at LRAFB along with U-28As, CV-22 Ospreys, MC-130H Combat Talon IIs and more.

Those aircraft departed on Tuesday.

Hurricane Irma passed over Florida Saturday and Sunday, moving its way up from the Florida Keys causing widespread flooding, power outages and leaving at least 12 people dead.

The damage in Florida appears to be less than in the Houston area, where evacuations were not mandatory and at least 70 people died, after Hurricane Harvey hit Aug. 25.

Millions of people fled Florida last week in what is believed to be the largest evacuation in history. Irma had caused more than 40 deaths across the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm. It was a Category 3 by the time it hit the Keys.

Base leadership said LRAFB is prepared to deploy more storm-relief assets if needed.

The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, which includes Jacksonville-based First Electric, dispatched 145 linemen and equipment to assist electric cooperatives in Florida and South Carolina with power-outage restoration.

Approximately 6 million people were still without power in Florida on Tuesday.

About 100 of the linemen will work in cooperatives in South Carolina, while 45 linemen will assist in restoring service in Florida, a number of whom are with First Electric.