Navy evacuates 5,000 personnel from Key West naval base as Hurricane Irma approaches(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cody R. Babin)
The U.S. Navy has ordered more than 5,000 personnel stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West to evacuate in advance of Category 5 Hurricane Irma, which is expected to hit Florida with incredible power this weekend.
Irma is a Category 5 storm and packs winds of 185 miles per hour; it is the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history, and the state of Florida is in its path of destruction.
Military active duty service members, families, civilians and contractors are being forced to evacuate, Navy officials told CNN.
“The officials familiar with the evacuation plan say approximately 50 to 60 personnel will stay to man essential functions at the installation,” CNN reported.
Navy Spokesman Bill Dougherty told CNN that the Commander of the U.S. Navy Region Southeast “ordered the mandatory evacuation of non-essential personnel and dependents from NAS Key West to safe haven within 300 miles of Atlanta, Georgia.”
Aircraft, including fixed-wing planes and helicopters, will be moved inland from Jacksonville and Mayport, Florida, and submarines will evacuate from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia.
Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, will shelter in place for the storm as it passes north, Dougherty told CNN; other bases might also evacuate.
Other military preparations include:
- The USS Iwo Jima and USS New York will leave Mayport, Florida, and go to Norfolk, where they’ll remain on standby, Navy officials told CNN.
- The USS Kearsarge and USS Oak Hill will remain off the coast of Florida, out of the storm’s path, and await orders on whether or not to head to Texas to help with Harvey, or whether they will help with Hurricane Irma, a military official told CNN.
- The U.S. Air Force will “relocate the majority of F-16 aircraft from Homestead Air Reserve Base in southern Florida,” spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder told CNN.
- The “Hurricane Hunters” – the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron based at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi – will fly this week to monitor Hurricane Irma, Ryder also said.
- Air Force search and rescue teams that were helping in Texas after Hurricane Harvey are not back at their respective home stations in anticipation of Hurricane Irma, Ryder told CNN.