The commander of Tyndall Air Force Base said Monday that it would probably take a “couple of weeks” before the base gets power back online after a hurricane devastated the base and surrounding areas.
Col. Brian S. Laidlaw wrote in a letter to service members and their families that recovery and cleanup efforts have “been a major undertaking” that has so far precluded them from returning to the base.
As satellite photos and other on-the-ground reports show, nearly every building and hangar suffered damage from Hurricane Michael. Vehicles, debris, and parts of buildings were scattered throughout the base, which is located on the Florida panhandle.
“In the next day, I will give you guidance for how and when I will open the gates for you to come back to your house or dorm,” Laidlaw wrote. “To be clear, you won’t be able to stay. You will have to stage from outside the evacuation area and depart the base after you visit your home.”
He added: “We do not have the capacity to feed you, bed you down, or provide any support to sustain a large population on base. All the resources we have are supporting the emergency relief efforts trying to bring our base back online.”
Laidlaw also mentioned that during recovery efforts, some truck tires have been damaged after running over nails and other debris, while downed trees have made some neighborhoods hard to navigate.
“If we open the gates too soon we might make problems worse,” he wrote.
Besides damage to the base and its facilities, questions remain as to the extant of the damage to Tyndall’s F-22 fleet. The base is home to 55 F-22 Raptors, and some reports suggest that roughly 22 aircraft were left behind in hangars since they were undergoing maintenance.
The Air Force said some of its F-22’s were left behind, but has so far not offered specifics or numbers of aircraft that may have been affected.
Read Laidlaw’s full letter below:
Good morning Team Tyndall,
We are one week into the evacuation of Tyndall Air Force Base. We have completed the initial recovery phase. Phase 2 has begun.
The focus of Phase 2 is to get you back into your homes to inspect and gather your belongings.
Please understand that our base and local area remain dangerous. We are still cleaning roads, power lines and debris.
We are working to get our utilities back on line. Experts are telling me it will likely be a couple of weeks before we can start to get back our power.
This has been a major undertaking, but we are better than we were yesterday, and tomorrow will be even better.
In the next day, I will give you guidance for how and when I will open the gates for you to come back to your house or dorm.
To be clear, you won’t be able to stay. You will have to stage from outside the evacuation area and depart the base after you visit your home.
We do not have the capacity to feed you, bed you down, or provide any support to sustain a large population on base. All the resources we have are supporting the emergency relief efforts trying to bring our base back online.
My main effort right now is two-fold. First, we are preparing the base to receive and bed down a unit with a focus on repairs.
Second, I’m making the base safe for your return. This means cutting trees blocking roads in our neighborhoods and removing dangerous debris. We’ve lost a lot of tires on our trucks and other vehicles driving over nails and other debris. If we open the gates too soon we might make problems worse.
You and your families remain in my thoughts at all times. You have always been and will always be my number one priority. You are Tyndall’s most important asset, and I am so very thankful that you are all alright.
Col. Brian S. Laidlaw
325th Fighter Wing Commander