Military personnel erected the tents on Tuesday, Oct. 16, the same day officials told residents, which include military members and civilian employees as well as their families, that they could return to the base to check their property anytime during the day from Wednesday to Sunday. Some 11,000 personnel and families were evacuated.
The tents were only holding personnel necessary to continue the base’s operations, not visitors, as officials told people coming to check their property that they could not stay.
“Please understand that our base and local area remain dangerous. We are still cleaning roads, power lines, and debris. This has been a major undertaking but we are getting better each day,” the base said in a statement.
“We continue working a long-term plan of action but we simply aren’t there yet, as we are concentrating on the short term day-to-day recovery actions.”
— Tyndall AFB (@TeamTyndall) October 17, 2018
Will Likely Take Years
Officials told the Air Force Times that it will likely take years to bring the base back to where it was before Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm, directly hit it.
Due to the magnitude of the damage—all of the more than 860 housing units on the base, some families won’t be back at the base at all.
“We’re going to have to make some serious decisions on which families come back to that base or not,” said Air Force spokesman Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas.
“There will be families that will be displaced from the base until we make a decision on where they’re going to PCS [permanent change of station] to, who will come back to the base. And then they will have their household goods picked up from Tyndall and moved to another location.”
Some missions will likely be up and running again at Tyndall in a few months but others may permanently shift to another base, forcing personnel involved in those to move.
Several of the F-22s left behind at the base during the storm suffered significant damage, but most remained largely intact.
“We’re not dealing with destroyed aircraft here,” Thomas said.
The military hasn’t disclosed how many of the stealth fighters were left behind; the base is typically home to 55 of the world’s most advanced fighter jets, and 33 of them were confirmed to have been flown to a base in Ohio.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) told the Pensacola News-Journal that the jets that were left behind were undergoing maintenance and couldn’t be flown.
Retired Air Force Col. John “JV” Venable, a senior research fellow for defense policy at the Heritage Foundation and a former commander of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team said that officials declining to name an exact number makes sense as the Air Force doesn’t want to show any weakness, while noting moving the jets wouldn’t have been realistic.
“It would have been too large of a muscle movement in too short of time,” he said.