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Sixty lives saved: the Coast Guard’s Clearwater Air Station’s role in the Dorian recovery

Cargo planes, helicopters and people are all part of the effort.
Capt. Joseph McGilley, commanding officer of Air Station Clearwater, center, gives an update on Wednesday about the air station's work in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas. He stands inside a hangar on the Air Station Clearwater property in front of a Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, the same type being used in search and rescue efforts in the Bahamas. [JOSH SOLOMON | Times] [JOSH SOLOMON | Josh Solomon, Tampa Bay Times]
Published Sep. 4

U.S. Coast Guard personnel from the Clearwater air station have rescued more than 60 survivors in the Bahamas after the island nation was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian this week, officials there said Wednesday.

The update came as rescue and relief efforts are getting underway in full force now that the catastrophic hurricane has moved north, making way for first responders. The storm, once a Category 5, stalled atop the Bahamas, pummeling the islands with rain, wind and storm surge for more than 24 hours.

C-130 cargo planes from the air station, near Largo next to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, have been ferrying people to the islands, landing on Nassau and Andros Island, according to Capt. Joseph McGilley, the air station’s commanding officer. The station’s MH-60 helicopters have been landing in damaged areas to rescue people in critical need.

“It’s heartwrenching," McGilley said of the families whose homes have been destroyed. "They’re still standing in water that hasn’t receded.”

But, he said, Bahamians have been “resilient.”

“They recognize the fact that not all can be evacuated at this time, and they are making sure the critically injured and the young are the first out,” McGilley said at a news conference inside a hangar on the Air Station Clearwater base, in front of an MH-60 rescue helicopter.

Those who are being evacuated are being taken to Nassau, he said.

The hardest part of the operation has been just getting to people, as harbors and runways in the destroyed areas are unusable, he said.

He implored well-meaning people who are not part of official rescue missions to stay away from the islands. Those who come unprepared face the possibility of needing rescue themselves.

“You’re going to put your own lives... at risk,” McGilley said.

2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

What Michael taught the Panhandle and Tampa Bay

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. [Photo courtesy of NOAA] NOAA
    Nearly a year after the storm, 18,000 claims are still open.
  2. The tropical outlook on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2019. National Hurricane Center
    The depression is expected to become Tropical Storm Jerry by early Wednesday, then strengthen to a hurricane by the weekend.
  3. Hurricane Humberto's projected path as of 5 a.m. Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. National Hurricane Center
    It could become a major hurricane by Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
  4. The forecast track for Hurricane Humberto, as of 5 a.m. Monday. National Hurricane Center
    The Category 1 hurricane is moving away from the southeastern United States and expected to approach Bermuda by Wednesday night.
  5. Mos Antenor, 42, drives a bulldozer while clearing the road after Hurricane Dorian Mclean's Town, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Friday Sept. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) RAMON ESPINOSA  |  AP
    Threatening to exacerbate islands’ problems, Humberto’s rains were falling on Abaco island.
  6. Members of the fire rescue team Task Force 8, from Gainesville, Florida, help remove a body one week after Hurricane Dorian hit The Mudd neighborhood in the Marsh Harbor area of Abaco Island, Bahamas, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. Dorian, the most powerful hurricane in the northwestern Bahamas' recorded history, has killed at least 44 people in Bahamas as of Sunday, Sept. 8, according to the government. GONZALO GAUDENZI  |  AP
    Many in the northwestern Bahamas, known for its casinos, golf courses and mega yachts, worry they will be forced into deep poverty.
  7. The tropical outlook on Saturday Sept. 14, 2019. National Hurricane Center
    A north-northwest turn is expected by Sunday, just as the storm is projected to become a hurricane.
  8. The tropical outlook on Saturday Sept. 14, 2019. National Hurricane Center
    Humberto’s wind speeds reached 40 mph on Saturday as it’s expected to turn north-northwest.
  9. Wreckage left behind by Hurricane Michael. News Service of Florida
    Entire school systems are still recovering from long-standing damage and dealing with the disruptive aftermath of the storm.
  10. A 12-year-old Bahamian girl was separated from parents in Nassau after being rescued from Abaco. She ended up in a Miami home for migrant kids. COURTESY OF PAUL FAMILY
    Katyora Paul was released from a Miami shelter to her mother.
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