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AMC 'chasing the clock' to move hundreds of Hurricane Rita evacuees

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SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (USTCNS) --- As a second major hurricane bears down on the Gulf Coast region, Air Mobility Command is helping evacuate hundreds of people from the path of the storm.

Hurricane Rita -- a Category 4 storm boasting 135 mile per hour winds -- is expected to hit the Texas Gulf Coast in the early-morning hours Sept. 24.

On Sept. 21, AMC began positioning key personnel and resources throughout the Gulf Coast area in the event the storm delivers another devastating blow to that region.

The command also began airlifting patients and other evacuees from the path of the hurricane.

On two missions Sept. 22, C-9 and C-130 aircraft were used to transport more than 100 patients from Beaumont, Texas, and Port Arthur, Texas. According to AMC officials, the command was expected to evacuate between 1,700 and 2,000 patients from that area alone.

On Sept. 23, Col. Jeff Franklin, a senior controller with the Tanker Airlift Control Center here, said the command only had a few hours left to transport the remaining evacuees. "Were chasing the clock," he said. "The weather is getting real bad, real fast. We only have two and half to three hours to move these people."

He said the command is planning additional missions using C-17 aircraft from the 97th Air Mobility Wing (Altus AFB, Okla.), and the 62nd and 446th airlift wings at McChord AFB, Wash.; a C-141 from the 445th AW at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; as well as C-130s from Little Rock AFB, Ark., C-5s from Lackland AFB, Texas; and various other active duty, Guard and Reserve aircraft.

According to a McChord AFB press release, a C-17 assigned to the 313th Airlift Squadron (446th AW) there departed the base Sept. 22 en route to Travis AFB, Calif., to pick up 400 patient litters and 800 cargo straps. The crew is delivering the equipment to Beaumont where it will be pre-positioned for possible use in evacuating non-ambulatory patients. McChord AFB officials said another C-17, from the 62nd AW, departed the base today in support of Hurricane Rita operations.

In addition to evacuating patients and passengers in the Beaumont and Port Author area, Colonel Franklin said the command is moving quickly to evacuate about 100 patients from Lake Charles, La., to Shreveport, La. The colonel said they are also evacuating about 200 litter patients out of Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, and transporting them to Biggs Army Airfield near El Paso, Texas.

We're moving hundreds of people from the path of the hurricane," said Colonel Franklin. "We're basically emptying hospitals and nursing homes and taking those people to safety."

Colonel Franklin said the evacuation has been a total force effort, using active duty, Guard and Reserve personnel and aircraft, as well as assistance from U.S. Navy aircraft.

He said the command has been very successful so far, but it still has a lot of work to do and, with the weather worsening by the hour, it has to move quickly to complete the missions.

Helping facilitate the evacuation of patients in the Beaumont area, on Sept. 22 the 433rd Airlift Wing at Lackland AFB, Texas, delivered about 35 aeromedical evacuation personnel, a Mobile Air Staging Facility, and two Critical Care Air Transport Teams from nearby Wilford Hall Medical Center. A CCATT consists of a surgeon, a surgical nurse and a cardiopulmonary technician. Additionally, on Sept. 23, the 433rd AW had three C-5s on the ground in Beaumont preparing to evacuate patients and priority passengers.

During the past several weeks, the 433rd AW has been instrumental in the treatment and evacuation of thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina. The wing helped evacuate about 12,700 patients and passengers from New Orleans alone.

With hundreds more evacuees being transported from the path of Hurricane Rita, AMC is also deploying a number of security forces RAVENs to provide security on aircraft traveling to and from the Gulf Coast region.

A single RAVEN team consists of two to six specially-trained and -equipped security forces personnel dedicated to providing security for AMC aircraft and aircrews.

According to AMC officials, the command has also pre-positioned several senior officers to help coordinate air mobility operations, and 17 members of the 818th Contingency Response Group, McGuire AFB, N.J., have been deployed to Texas in support Hurricane Rita operations.

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