By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 16, 2008 - More than 90 National Guard members in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are on duty today after Hurricane Omar passed through their area as a major Category 3 storm that caused little damage. "Take this very seriously," Gov. John deJongh of the U.S. Virgin Islands said yesterday after he activated his National Guard, closed all public schools and imposed a 6 p.m. curfew for all islands.
The National Hurricane Center said the core of the storm with the most intense winds passed between St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands overnight.
The storm knocked down trees and caused some flooding and minor mudslides, but there were no immediate reports of deaths or major damage, Mark Walters, director of the U.S. Virgin Islands disaster management agency, told the Associated Press.
About 75 Guard members are providing communication support in St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, and transportation support on St. Croix with three Humvees and two 2.5-ton trucks. They also are manning shelters in St. Croix and St. Thomas.
Aviation assets, including an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter and a C-23 Sherpa turbo-prop airplane, are flying reconnaissance and damage assessment missions on the three islands.
National Guard officials said St. Croix is without power, and St. Thomas and St. John have no power on their north sides. All of the islands are still being hit with heavy rain and strong winds.
Puerto Rico, which was brushed by the storm, has 12 Guard members conducting command and control in the state's Joint Operations Center.
Yesterday, two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Puerto Rico were used to move rescue and medical personnel to the islands of Vieques and Culebra. One death was reported on Culebra. Authorities say a man collapsed from cardiac arrest while trying to install storm shutters to his house.
Four C-130 Hercules transports from the 156th Airlift Wing in Puerto Rico were evacuated yesterday, with three going to MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., and one going to Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla. Three are scheduled to return to the island today, with the remaining aircraft scheduled to return tomorrow.
Air National Guard officials are planning at least one mission tomorrow to transport packaged meals from Puerto Rico to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The National Hurricane Center reported this morning that the storm is moving toward the central Atlantic, away from the U.S. East Coast.
(Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke serves at the National Guard Bureau.)