TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AP) — Tyndall Air Force Base suffered catastrophic damage when Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida Panhandle, ripping roofs off airplane hangars, tossing vehicles around a parking lot and leaving a fighter jet that had been on display flipped over on the ground.
The home to the nation’s 325th Fighter Wing “took a beating,” Col. Brian Laidlaw said in a letter posted Thursday night to the 3,600 men and women stationed at the base located 12 miles east of Panama City. The Air Force evacuated the base in advance of the storm’s arrival Wednesday afternoon.
“I will not recall you and your families until we can guarantee your safety. At this time I can’t tell you how long that will take, but I’m on it,” Laidlaw wrote. “We need to restore basic utilities, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and assess the structural integrity of our buildings. 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.”
The evacuations were ordered Monday and everyone except the “ride-out” team left the base by Tuesday afternoon. Michael was a strong Category 4 hurricane as it lashed the base, which is between Panama City and Mexico Beach.
On Thursday, Air Force officials conducted the first aerial assessment of the base and found extensive damage. A report posted on the base website said the flight line is devastated and every building on the base suffered severe damage, with many considered a complete loss. In addition, the Tyndall marina, the drone runway and Tyndall Elementary School sustained severe damage.
Power and basic utilities have not been restored to the base.
Laidlaw said in the letter to staff that crews will need time to clear trees from roads and repair power lines before anyone returns.
Evacuees who took base transportation to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, were restricted to one large luggage piece per family and one carry on per person. They were asked to make sure they had 72 hours’ worth of items.