Tyndall Air Force Base “took a beating” when Hurricane Michael roared into Florida with little warning — but some quick thinking and a scramble to beat the clock before landfall may have saved the government billions of dollars.
The Panama City base sustained “severe” damage that “requires extensive cleanup and repairs,” Col. Brian S. Laidlaw wrote in a letter posted to Facebook. But Tyndall’s 50 high-tech F-22 fighter jets — a fleet collectively worth about $7 billion — were untouched by the devastating winds and rain, thanks to a successful effort by the base’s soldiers and airmen.
Though aerial footage of the scene painted a bleak picture — including images of airplane debris strewn across the base — officials say the broken and battered planes were old jets that had been turned into museum pieces – not the F-22s.
The base’s aircraft were moved to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and the Fort Worth Alliance Airport in Texas earlier in the week, officials said. Non-essential military personnel and civilians were also ordered to evacuate before the storm hit.
And when Michael blew ashore, it soon became evident how important Tyndall’s preparations had been.
HURRICANE MICHAEL UNLEASHED ‘WIDESPREAD CATASTROPHIC DAMAGE’ AT TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, OFFICIALS SAY
“The flight line is devastated. Every building has severe damage. Many buildings are a complete loss,” Tyndall AFB wrote on social media. “The hurricane completely destroyed the Tyndall marina. The structures and docks are gone.”
Laidlow said he won’t ask the 3,600 airmen and other family members stationed at the base to return until their safety is guaranteed.
“I know that you are eager to return I ask you to be patient and try to focus on taking care of your families and each other. We can rebuild our base, but we can’t rebuild any of you,” Laidlow wrote in a Friday morning update.
HURRICANE MICHAEL’S SHOCKING FURY SEEN IN FLORIDIANS’ HARROWING VIDEOS
Michael crashed into the Florida Panhandle area as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds earlier this week, devastating towns along the Gulf Coast and killing at least 11 people. By Friday morning, it had been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone nearly 200 miles off the coast of Virginia.
Gov. Rick Scott tweeted Friday that the Florida National Guard had been deployed to “the most impacted areas.”
Approximately 5,000 Department of Defense employees – half of whom are in the National Guard – are assisting with relief operations, according to the DOD. The National Guard has also made available about 1,800 high water vehicles, 100 helicopters and 90 boats, officials said.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson, Elizabeth Zwirz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.