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Guard units from 14 states gear up for Hurricane Florence

By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy | National Guard Bureau | Sept. 13, 2018

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ARLINGTON, Va. – As the outer edges of Hurricane Florence begin to hit the Carolina coast, close to 5,000 National Guard members are on duty throughout the East Coast in preparation for the storm's landfall, which occurred about 7:15 a.m. near Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

The hurricane by then was a Category 1 storm, with winds of 90 mph and torrential rain.

"We are ready and capable," said Army Maj. Gen. R. Van McCarty, assistant adjutant general – Army, with the South Carolina National Guard. "We are positioned to respond and are ready to assist the citizens of South Carolina."

Soldiers and Airmen are pre-positioned throughout the Carolinas, the two states expected to bear the brunt of the storm, to handle potential operations including search and rescue, food and water distribution, debris removal and road clearing.

"The key to being able to rapidly respond is staging personnel and resources in strategic locations before the severe weather hits so they can quickly respond to assist communities if they are impacted by the severe weather from Hurricane Florence," said Army Brig. Gen. James Ring, director of the Virginia National Guard's joint staff.

The Virginia National Guard has taken similar steps in staging roughly 1,500 Soldiers and Airmen throughout the state in advance of the storm and are authorized to call in up to 6,000 Virginia Guard members, should they be needed for response efforts.

Preparing for the storm has also seen Guard units and assets come from throughout the country as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, in which units based in one state can be used in areas in another state affected by a natural or manmade disaster.

Airmen with the Alaska Air National Guard's 212th Rescue Squadron and the California Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Wednesday in preparation for response operations. The New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing began moving personnel and equipment to Dover onThursday.

"This is who we are. This is what we do,” said Air Force Col. Michael Bank, commander of the 106th Rescue Wing. "We are happy to be able to help. We train all year round to provide this capability and ensure we are ready when needed.”

Elements from the New York Army National Guard's Company B, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment and Company C, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment, are on standby to provide additional support, if needed.

Meanwhile, Soldiers and Airmen with the West Virginia National Guard are gearing up to respond to potential flooding in the Mountain State as Florence pushes inland, and have also sent personnel and equipment to the Carolinas and Virginia.

Florence's top sustained wind speed reached a high of 140 mph, but by early Thursday had dropped to 105 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. While that drop in wind speed drops Florence to a Category 2 hurricane, forecasters expect the storm to linger on the coast, much as Hurricane Harvey last year in Texas, inundating the area with heavy rain.

As the East Coast prepares for Florence, the Puerto Rico National Guard is gearing up for Tropical Storm Isaac. Isaac is expected to remain south of the island, sparing Puerto Rico from a direct hit, but the Puerto Rico Guard remains ready if the hurricane's track changes.

"We have taken all the necessary precautions in accordance with our contingency plans," said Army Brig. Gen. Isabelo Rivera, the adjutant general of the Puerto Rico Guard.