|Air National Guardsmen from the Moffett Field-based 129th Rescue Wing returned home last week after performing rescue operations in response to Hurricane Ike in southern Texas.
The rescue personnel saved a total of 48 people and 13 dogs in the Galveston area, which had been flooded by the storm. "I was expecting to see shingles blown off, and instead I see houses gone," said Tech. Sgt. Luiggo Romanillo.
The contingent of 80 Moffett-based airmen had originally been deployed to Texas in response to Hurricane Gustav, but shifted focus after receiving forecast information about the incoming Hurricane Ike. "We moved on the fly," said Romanillo.
Maj. Rhys Hunt said he knew last Saturday that things would be busy after more than 200 calls were made to 911. Amid the destruction, Hunt saw the Galveston airport under water and 70 to 80 beach homes "completely sheared right off" their stilts.
"As far as natural disasters, this is about the worst natural disaster I've ever flown over" except for Hurricane Katrina, Hunt said.
The airmen performed last-minute evacuations, taking brief shelter in San Antonio to avoid the eye of the storm before returning to the scene.
Hunt piloted a helicopter in 50 mph winds, slowly trolling over flooded areas in Crystal Beach and Gilcrest on the Bolivar peninsula, hoping that people in need of help would come outside and flag them down. Many did, including a trio of elderly people who had run out of their medication and needed to get to a hospital, Hunt said.
"Some people were hysterical, their homes had been devastated," Romanillo said. "One guy with a stroke had to be taken from inside his house with a hoist."
To rescue the 48 people and 13 dogs, the 129th worked with the 106th and 176th rescue wings, from New York and Alabama, respectively. According to Romanillo, many people were less concerned with their own well-being than they were with that of their pets. "The first thing that they said was, 'Can you take my five dogs?'" he said.
"This professional and highly skilled team of citizen airmen demonstrated our unit's life-saving capability to respond anytime, anywhere," said Col. Amos Bagdasarian, 129th Rescue Wing Commander, in a press release. "This is exactly why we're consistently called upon to perform rescue operations in natural disasters, such as fires, floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes."
After flying the evacuees to Texas City High School, Hunt's crew returned to find a man and a woman wading through flood waters. They informed Hunt of others who needed help: an elderly man, his son and his daughter-in-law who were stranded in their home with their dog. The crew used a hoist to pluck them from the rising waters as well.
"All you can do is think to yourself, 'Man, I feel sorry for these people and if I don't do this, no one else will,'" said Romanillo. "We were happy to get out the people we could."
Hurricane Ike rescue photos are available at www.129rqw.ang.af.mil/photos and video clips at www.youtube.com/129thRescueWing
Are you receiving Express, our free daily e-mail edition? See a sample and sign-up for Express.