By Steve Marshall, National Guard Bureau
Florida National Guard members began preparing for a possible hit and residents began evacuating as Hurricane Irma — a monster storm packing winds up to 185 mph — hovered Wednesday over Caribbean islands.
Air and Army National Guard members have been mobilized in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which are in the path of the Category 5 storm.
“As we prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Irma, I want our Airmen, their families and our community to know the Puerto Rico Air National Guard stands ready and prepared. We are trained to deal with natural disasters when called upon by the Governor and follow his directives,” said Col. Rayond Figueroa, commander of Puerto Rico’s 156th Airlift Wing.
This comes just days after a huge, multi-state, multi-branch mobilization of thousands of members of the National Guard and other military personnel in response to the devastation in Texas and Louisiana caused by Hurricane Harvey.
In Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott mobilized 100 Citizen-Soldiers and – Airmen, all 7,000 Guard members are to report for duty on Friday. Scott already declared a state of emergency and urged residents to heed warnings and be prepared. On Wednesday, the state adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Michael A. Calhoun, echoed that advice.
“As Hurricane Irma moves closer to our state, I truly hope that everyone takes Gov. Rick Scott’s call to action seriously. The men and women of your Florida National Guard are ready and prepared to respond – are you?” Calhoun said. “Irma is a very serious threat and you need to make sure your family is prepared with enough food, water, and essential supplies for at least three days. Have an evacuation plan – Where will you go? What is your route? Who will you keep updated? Your preparedness ensures that your Guard personnel and equipment can respond where the need is the greatest. We will be there to help, but I ask that you help us by being as ready as we are.”
“With Hurricane Irma now a Category 5 storm, we must do all we can to prepare our families and communities for any potential impact from this major weather event,” Scott told Florida residents and visitors. “We do not know the exact path of this storm, but weather can change in an instant and while we hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst.”
Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that more than 45,000 Guard members are engaged worldwide — including 1,200 fighting wildfires in California, Montana and Oregon, more than 19,000 Texas Guard and supporting states responding to Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, and nearly 13,000 mobilized and supporting the combatant commands overseas.