ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - As Tropical Storm Fay moved slowly up Florida's east coast and caused flooding in coastal communities, members of the Florida National Guard continued to support the storm relief efforts by first responders.
By Thursday afternoon, nearly 500 Soldiers and Airmen were supporting relief missions for Tropical Storm Fay, primarily providing command for logistics operations and preparing to engage in recovery missions in flooded areas with Soldiers and high-water vehicles.
Since the storm made landfall in southwest Florida on early Tuesday morning, the Florida National Guard has sent Soldiers to 10 counties along Fay's path. Guardmembers linked up with emergency officials and assessed the damage. The Guard also deployed liaison officers to five northeast Florida counties and staged high-water military vehicles by Thursday in anticipation of rescue missions throughout the state.
Aviation assets including a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters were also positioned for aerial support missions as the storm continued to move across the peninsula.
On Wednesday, a team of 15 Soldiers from the Guard's 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment assisted officials in Brevard County with voluntary evacuations in three communities, helping move citizens threatened by rising flood waters.
"Right now we've sent reconnaissance teams to 10 different counties and have additional forces standing by in north Florida," said Brig. Gen. Michael Flemming, assistant adjutant general for the Florida Army National Guard. "There are another 14 or so counties that may need assistance as this storm passes westward across the state. We are well prepared to assist in any high-water vehicle missions, especially search and rescue and area assistance survey work. We work well with our local county and municipal partners and are ready to help them in any way we can,"
Because the potential path, strength and expected damage from Tropical Storm Fay were largely unknown, the Florida National Guard stationed logistics specialists at the State Logistics Resource Center (SLRC) in Orlando, Fla., where they could help with the distribution of needed supplies in the storm's wake. The supplies - including bottled water and prepackaged food - were being loaded by Guardsmen onto trucks at the SLRC on Wednesday in case of widespread power outages.
Soldiers working at the warehouse also helped manage the flow and tracking of supplies at the 200,000-square-foot facility that holds more than $14 million in essential water and emergency supplies for the state.
"We're maintaining the whole warehouse and just pretty much waiting for the storm," said Sgt. 1st Class Larry Flemming of the 631st Maintenance Company. "We have all the trucks stocked and are making sure everything is ready to go."
A team of Florida National Guard Airmen from the 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron were also stationed at the SLRC in Orlando to provide emergency communications support if needed. Using a Regional Emergency Response Network (RERN) system, the Airmen were prepared to offer voice and digital communications to the center in the event of a major power failure.
"The RERN system gives the state the ability to rapidly deploy a communications network anywhere if the "˜comms' have been lost," explained Tech. Sgt. Ray Simpson as his team extended RERN's satellite dish in a parking lot next to the SLRC. "And this gives the commanders on the ground the ability to run their operations and get assets out to the people who need them quickly."
On Thursday the center of Tropical Storm Fay was located southeast of Daytona Beach, and it was projected to begin a slow move toward the west, bringing torrential rain and flooding for much of north Florida. Fay had also reportedly spawned tornadoes in Brevard County, and weather experts warned of the possibility of isolated tornadoes in northeastern Florida and southern Georgia as the storm moved west.
"This is a very odd storm in the sense that it is moving so slowly and it has zigzagged across the state," explained Fleming. "This is a storm that has the unique potential to make landfall five times. That's not happened before."
Note: Jon Myatt of the Florida Department of Military Affairs contributed to this report.