Military Relief Effort for Hurricane Florence Winds Down

USS Kearsarge transits off the Carolinas, September 21 (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 09-21-2018 01:55:43

The U.S. Department of Defense is winding down its response effort for Hurricane Florence and returning some personnel to their home stations, allowing them to resume their normal missions. Many of the servicemembers who are now standing down from the hurricane relief operations live in communities affected by the storm, DoD says, and they will be able to return to help with recovery and clean-up locally.

The military's role in the response included contributions from the National Guard, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Defense Logistics Agency and by local military units. U.S. Northern Command organized the effort.

“There has been a strong local response from first responders all the way through to the state and their emergency operations centers. This is coupled with the strong National Guard support and the broader response from FEMA and DoD,” said Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command. 

The assets that are leaving the region include the Kearsarge Amphibious Readiness Group, along with embarked elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). Prior to Florence's arrival, the amphibs USS Kearsarge and USS Arlington staged off the Mid-Atlantic coast to "chase" the storm in to shore, putting them in place to respond as quickly as possible. 

Flooding prompts new evacuations

Flooding in North and South Carolina continued Friday as Florence's massive rains drained towards the coast. On Thursday night, Coast Guard helicopter aircrews helped evacuate 100 people from the town of Kelly, North Carolina when the Cape Fear River breached a levy. “The North Carolina National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard flying with night vision goggles heroically saved lives,” said Gov. Roy Cooper at a press conference Friday. 

Waters are still rising on the Cape Fear River, and on Friday, its floodwaters breached the dike surrounding a resevoir at the decommissioned L.V. Sutton Power Plant near Wilmington. The lake abuts several coal ash pits, including one that breached earlier in the week. Operator Duke Power confirmed that it is possible that coal ash from the pits has escaped into the river. Coal ash contains toxic heavy metals, including cadmium, arsenic and mercury.
The floods have also cut off access to many parts of the state. Road travel isn't recommended at all in 14 counties, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) warned that there is still "no safe, reliable route" into the seaport city of Wilmington.

At the Port of Wilmington, marine-side operations have resumed, and the port welcomed its first container ship since the storm. The YM Uniformity arrived at Wilmington Thursday evening from Boston, and tugs brought her alongside the pier. The port's truck gates have not yet reopened and are expected to remain shut until Monday.