5,500 National Guard troops deploy in Florida, Carolinas in wake of Hurricane Idalia

More than 5,500 National Guard troops were on duty Thursday in three states impacted by Hurricane Idalia, which struck north Florida as a Category 3 storm before dumping heavy rains and damaging wind on parts of Georgia and North and South Carolina.

The entire Florida Army and Air National Guard was deployed Thursday, with some 5,300 troops aiding in recovery efforts across that state, which took the brunt of Idalia’s force, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman. Nearly 100 National Guard members were on duty in South Carolina and another 128 Guard troops were operating in North Carolina on Thursday, he said.

“The [Defense Department] will remain in close coordination with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], state officials and other supporting agencies as the cleanup and recovery options continue to develop,” Ryder said at the Pentagon.

Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning near rural Taylor County in Florida’s Big Bend region as the most powerful storm to strike that area in more than a century. The hurricane boasted 125 mph sustained winds as it slammed into Florida’s Gulf Coast, remaining a hurricane as it crossed into southeast Georgia and downgrading to a tropical storm as it continued late Wednesday into Thursday across the Carolinas, according to the National Weather Service.

The hurricane dropped heavy rains along its path resulting in a 5-foot storm surge along Florida’s north coast, including Tampa, some 90 miles south of where Idalia made landfall, which saw near-record water levels, the National Weather Service said. The storm also left high water levels in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, where storm surge neared 3 feet, the service said.

In its path, Idalia left a stream of flooded roads, downed trees and damaged homes and buildings. Photos shared by the Florida National Guard showed troops meeting Wednesday with residents amid tree debris and standing water. The storm dropped more than 8 inches of rain in locations in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, according to the weather service.

The Florida Guard said Thursday that they had some 2,400 high water vehicles operating to help clear paths and reach isolated people. It also had personnel from its Air National Guard’s Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, or REDHORSE, working to clear vital routes for first responders to conduct door-to-door wellness checks, the Guard said.

The state also had 14 Army National Guard helicopters and 23 boats on duty to aid in search and rescue or medical evacuation operations, officials said. Guard forces were also helping with humanitarian assistance, traffic control and security operations across the impacted areas of Florida, the Guard said.

Meanwhile, military installations along the Idalia’s path largely appeared to be spared of major damage, officials said. While more than a dozen military installations across the region were impacted by Idalia, none of the posts reported extensive infrastructure problems, as of Thursday afternoon, though several indicated they were still surveying their grounds. Officials at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Ga., said the installations remained closed Thursday afternoon.

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