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  1. Local Weather

Military sends planes and ships packing ahead of Irma's arrival

Local military and Coast Guard aircraft and vessels, some of which participated in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, are being moved out of the area in advance of Hurricane Irma.

Many are expected to assist in the aftermath of Irma as well, officials say.

At Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, eight MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters and three HC-130 Hercules turboprop planes have been relocated to Mobile, Ala., said Mike De Nyse, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Four of those helicopters and one of the C-130s recently returned after taking part in Harvey relief efforts, rescuing people in distress and distributing relief supplies to areas hardest hit by the storm. De Nyse said.

Though they're being moved to a safer location, the aircraft will be available for Irma efforts, De Nyse said.

In addition, the Coast Guard Cutter Venturous has left St. Petersburg and headed to a staging area for rescue operations. De Nyse who would not disclose the vessel's location because of operational security concerns.

Another cutter, the Joshua Appleby, just returned from Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and will likely play a major role in work on the ports and waterways of Key West and other areas, De Nyse said.

MacDill Air Force Base is sending 11 of its 16 KC-135 aerial refueling tankers to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas as a precautionary measure, said Air Force 2nd Lt. Allison Mills, a spokeswoman for the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill's host unit.

The jets, seven Thursday and four Friday, are being moved because windspeeds at MacDill were expected to be about 50 mph.

"That's just about enough to tip a jet," said Terry Montrose, another wing spokesman.

Because there is not enough hangar space at MacDill, the jets could not be sheltered in place here, Montrose said.

As for the base itself, which is home to U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and sits in one of Tampa's riskiest flood areas, no decision has yet been made about an evacuation, Mills said.

Over at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, two companies of an Army Reserve helicopter regiment stationed there are bugging out in advance of Irma.

About two dozen Black Hawk helicopters and some 50 soldiers assigned to A and F Companies of the Army's 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment will be leaving because of the storm, said Army Capt. Matthew Roman, an Army Reserve Aviation spokesman.

No decision has been made yet on where the helicopters and troops will go, said Roman.

Among other missions, the unit, which has helicopters specifically outfitted to provide medical services, has performed medical evacuations in Afghanistan. During Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, similar units helped deliver three truckloads of water, from an anonymous donor, to the city of Beaumont, Texas, which had been without water.

The units are scheduled to move to MacDill, and bring 23 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and upward of 150 personnel.

Many of the crews and equipment being moved have just experienced hurricane recovery efforts.

The Coast Guard deployed about 55 personnel and four MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters to the Houston area between Aug. 26 and Sept. 3 while HC-130 Hercules airplanes made a number of logistics flights between Clearwater and Houston daily, De Nyse said.

"After challenging work in Houston we are now focused on Hurricane Irma," he said. "Clearwater HC-130 aircrews have already evacuated personnel in the Caribbean and two MH-60 helicopters with crews have been repositioned for quick response."

For the Coast Guard base at Sector St. Petersburg, De Nyse said some of the primary post-storm operations include reopening ports and waterways, clearing shipping channels and resuming the flow of maritime commerce.

To do that, crews with the sector's Aids to Navigation Team and the Coast Guard cutter Joshua Appleby were deployed for Texas but have since returned.

Members of the 4th Assault Amphibious Battalion, stationed on Gandy Boulevard, also took part in Harvey relief efforts. The Marine Reserve unit deployed a busload of troops, who joined its amphibious assault vehicles in relief and rescue efforts.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

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