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Tue, Jul 12, 2005

Eglin AFB Spared As Hurricane Dennis Flexes Muscle

Hurricane Dennis approached the Emerald Coast and the base July 8, an area still trying to get back to a sense of normalcy 10 months after Hurricane Ivan ripped through the area of Eglin AFB.

When the maximum sustained winds of Hurricane Dennis peaked at 150 mph on July 8, Dennis made history as the strongest Atlantic Basin hurricane on record for July and the strongest Atlantic hurricane this early in the season.

This made local Airmen a little nervous.

“This is déjà vu,” said Col. Edmond Keith, 96th Air Base Wing commander. “I can’t believe we are doing this again in less than a year.”

Dennis weakened as it moved over Cuba and was downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 1 hurricane with top sustained winds of 90 mph after emerging into the Gulf of Mexico. Due north of the storm, Airmen here were scurrying to prepare for the arrival of an unwanted guest.

Although the trek across Cuba weakened Dennis, the storm continued to move steadily to the northwest toward the east-central Gulf Coast. The maximum sustained winds strengthened to 145 mph as of July 10. All residents of the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the west coast of Florida monitored the progress of Dennis very closely, whether they evacuated or not.

“Any time there is a major storm like this, you have to consider the worse-case scenario,” Colonel Keith said about evacuating the Airmen and family members off the base to a safer location. “You have to take the information available to evacuate or not within 48 hours of land fall. If you wait to know, it’ll be too late.”

Once the evacuation order was set, family storm plans were put into motion and the base became a ghost town. Trash cans were tied down, boats were tied up and items that could go airborne were put away.

Maj. Gen. Robert W. Chedister, Air Armament Center commander here, took a ride around the base as he did in the hours before Hurricane Ivan hit in September 2004. There were families left on base who did not follow the evacuation order then, and there were trash cans that did not get tied down. This time was a completely different story.

“Everything looks good,” the general said during his trip. “That’s the advantage of having an experienced and trained crew.”

With ride-out teams who would remain on base during the hurricane in shelters, and a recovery team geared up at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., the only thing officials could do was wait and see what Hurricane Dennis would do.

July 10 was a “hurry up and wait” kind of day for everyone, but the wait was worth it. The storm clocked sustained winds of 65 mph with gusts of more than 100 mph, but the base was spared any major damage. [ANN Salutes Senior Airman Mike Meares, 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs]



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