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Tinker community recovers from massive tornado

May. 21, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

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Oklahoma National Guard Airmen perform search and ...: Oklahoma National Guard Airmen from the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron perform search and rescue missions at night using thermal imaging technology to help recover people buried under debris by tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. (National Guard)
Oklahoma National Guard soldiers and airmen respond to a devastating tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., on May 20. (Courtesy Photo/Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James/Army)

Airmen and civilians at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., were assessing damage to their own homes Tuesday and standing by to help with recovery efforts in nearby Moore, the hardest hit of the communities devastated by a massive tornado that swept through the area Monday.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no reports of damage at the base — three miles north of the tornado’s deadly path. Officials said the storm killed 24 people, including nine children. More than 100 were rescued from destroyed homes, schools and a hospital.

Moore is home to many airmen and civilians from Tinker, officials from the base said.

The Air Force estimates that more than 33,000 airmen from the active-duty force, Guard and Reserve may have been affected by the storms, prompting the service to activate its Air Force Personnel Accountability and Assessment System.

All personnel living in the area or there on leave or a temporary duty assignment were directed to use the web-based system to account for themselves and their family, Air Force Personnel Center announced Tuesday. Those who need assistance were instructed to fill out the needs assessment survey.

Between 45 and 55 personnel from the base have been dispatched to Moore and 10 Humvees from the 3rd Combat Communications Group could also be sent there, said base spokeswoman Kathy Paine.

“We have four dogs standing ready since last night,” she said. “We have a Tinker trauma team being prepared in case they’re needed. Three water buffaloes en route to Moore as well.”

Twenty airmen from the Oklahoma Air National Guard are also helping with tornado relief efforts in Moore, a Guard spokeswoman said. Most of the airmen are from the 146h Air Support Operations Squadron, based at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base, Oklahoma City.

The unit is using a lot of its equipment for combat, including thermal sensors and night-vision equipment, 2nd Lt. Gabriel Bird said in an interview with the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System.

“We’re here at ground zero basically looking to get put into the search and rescue portion so we can go out with the thermal imagers and night-vision, see in the dark and hopefully help find survivors,” Bird said on Monday evening.

The thermal sensors allow the airmen to see people in the dark. The airmen also have special radios that allow them to communicate with aircraft as well as rescuers on the ground.

Because the unit is relatively new, this is the first time it has been called upon to help with an emergency, but some of the airmen have responded to natural disasters before, said Bird, who participated in relief efforts for Hurricanes Katrina, Ike and Gustav.

Help available

Tinker officials are assessing the impact on personnel, their families and the community, said Col. Russell Muncy, commander of the 507th Air Refueling Wing, in a release.

Airmen, civilians and their families who need support such as food, clothing or emergency financial assistance can call the Emergency Family Assistance Center at 405-739-2747 or 405-736-9943, according to the base’s Facebook page.

If that doesn’t work, base personnel can try calling the Airman and Family Readiness Center front desk at 405-736-9943; Director Rickie Smith’s office at 405-739-7254 or Smith’s cell phone at 405-202-9012, said Col. Steven J. Bleymaier, commander of the 72nd Air Base Wing, in an email.

The base’s Facebook page also listed contact information for food banks, the Red Cross and other organizations that can help civilians in need.

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