Florida National Guard Soldiers Respond to Tornadoes

By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2007 - Florida National Guard soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, will deploy from Orlando to help Central Floridians recover from Feb. 2 tornadoes that left widespread devastation in several Florida counties week and killed 19 people.

In the storm's wake, thousands have no power, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has declared a state of emergency in Lake, Sumter, Seminole and Volusia counties. Guard officials report that initially around 50 soldiers will help distribute water and ice and provide support as needed.

Florida National Guard aircraft flew Crist, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Florida National Guard adjutant general Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett over the area just hours after the storms cut through the heart of the state during the early morning hours of Feb. 2. The National Weather Service estimates the F3 tornado had winds of 140 to 160 mph.

Although the storm system surprised many residents in the damaged counties who were asleep as the stormed slammed into their communities, the National Weather Service had been tracking the storm and had issued a hazardous weather outlook for the Florida panhandle Feb. 1, indicating a broad area of showers with strong thunderstorms was coming from the Gulf of Mexico. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., issued a tornado watch until 1 a.m. for many Florida counties.

As the system moved across the state early Feb. 2, the National Weather Service issued a secondary hazardous weather advisory for portions of Southwest and Central Florida. Shortly thereafter, a severe line of thunderstorms and reported tornadoes slammed through Central Florida leaving a trail of destruction. State and federal officials have yet to estimate the financial damage in the area.

According to the Florida governor's office, the system caused substantial damage to hundreds of residential dwellings and commercial properties and it is responsible for power outages to more than 20,000 homes and businesses. The storm also caused the temporary closure of Interstate 4, a main artery in the area, after two tractor-trailers were blown over by extreme winds.

Crist declared the hardest-hit counties disaster areas on Feb. 2 to allow federal and state aid to flow into the communities. The declaration also enables the governor to invoke the Emergency Management Assistance Compact and other compacts and agreements existing between Florida and other states that enable states to help each other during emergencies.

The governor ordered the adjutant general to activate the Florida National Guard and placed the Guard under the direction of the state coordinating officer for the duration of the emergency.

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