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U.S. Navy May Empty Out Largest Base Ahead of Hurricane Dorian

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Naval Station Norfolk (file image courtesy USN)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-09-03 19:51:08

U.S. 2nd Fleet has ordered all U.S. Navy ships and aircraft in the Hampton Roads area - including the assets at the world's largest naval base, Naval Station Norfolk - to make preparations to leave if required by the approach of Hurricane Dorian. 

2nd Fleet commander Vice Adm. Andrew L. Lewis has called for units to be ready to depart within 24 hours in order to avoid damage to ships, aircraft and piers due to high winds and seas. The latest storm forecast track from the National Hurricane Center predicts that Dorian may approach the coast of South and North Carolina Thursday, bringing dangerous winds, life-threatening storm surge and flooding rains to the region. The storm will pass in the vicinity of the Virginia coast on Friday, and the likelihood of wind and rain impact along portions of the southern Chesapeake Bay - the home of Hampton Roads - is increasing, the NHC warned Tuesday. 

“We will continue to monitor and track the storm to ensure our ships and personnel are prepared,” said Vice Adm. Lewis in a statement. “If necessary, we will sortie our ships to allow enough time to transit safely out of the path of the storm.”

The last time the Navy sortied out from Norfolk was in September 2018, and the base's 11 miles of berthing space were left largely empty - a rare sight at an installation that serves as the home port for 75 vessels. 

Few large vessels remained at Naval Station Norfolk's piers on Sept. 12, 2018, when most sortied ahead of Hurricane Florence (USN file image)

As usual, some ships will not get underway because they are undergoing maintenance, and these vessels will take extra precautions to avoid potential damage, 2nd Fleet said. Commanding officers may deploy additional mooring lines, drop anchor to supplement their mooring lines, and disconnect shore power cables.

Navy Region Mid-Atlantic has ordered all installations in the Hampton Roads area to prepare for the possibility of sustained winds of greater than 50 knots within 48 hours. This includes sandbagging, removing hazards and debris from drainage areas, removing items from waterfront areas, ensuring emergency generators and vehicles are topped off with fuel and preparing potable water supplies. 

The preparations also include readiness for the possibility of an evacuation order, which could affect thousands of sailors. Naval Station Norfolk is home to roughly 150,000 personnel, including active duty sailors, family members and reservists. Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads is home to 6,000 personnel, including the offices of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Joint Staff Hampton Roads, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command, Naval Submarine Forces Atlantic and Naval Reserve Forces Command.

 “All personnel and their families should also review . . . review hurricane checklists in the event an evacuation is deemed necessary,” said Rear Adm. Charles W. Rock, the commander for Region Mid-Atlantic. “Personnel should also discuss evacuation plans and reporting requirements with their chain of command.”