Forecasts are just the beginning

  • Published
  • By Eileen L. Williamson
  • Air Force Weather Agency Public Affairs
For Wake Island, the forecast for a fast-approaching Super Typhoon was just the beginning. 

On Aug. 19, forecasters were watching a fast growing tropical depression in the central Pacific Ocean. The depression quickly grew to tropical storm status and earned the name, Ioke. When it crossed the International Date Line Aug. 27, Hurricane Ioke became Super Typhoon Ioke and continued churning with the small atoll of Wake Island in its immediate path. Wake Island lies 2,300 miles west of Hawaii and 1,500 miles east of Guam and serves as a scientific outpost and midpoint air base for Air Force planes flying across the Pacific Ocean. 

The Air Force evacuated all 188 residents from Wake Island to Hickam AFB, Hawaii on two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft from the 15th Airlift Wing Aug. 28, before Super Typhoon Ioke arrived. The residents included Airmen, Department of Defense employees and Defense contractors. The 735th Air Mobility Squadron received and processed the evacuees through customs and immigration before they went to hotels in the Hickam area. 

"We went ahead and prepared all the facilities as best we could," said Capt. Nate Harris, Wake Island commander, before Ioke hit. "Now all we can do is sit, wait and see what damage occurs." 

The super typhoon passed almost directly over the 2.5-square mile atoll Aug. 31 with sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour and gusts of up to 190 mph.
Ioke was the first storm of its strength to develop in the central Pacific since record keeping began in the early 1960s. It was also the most powerful storm in the region since hurricanes Emilia and Gilma, which hit in July 1994. 

The U.S. Coast Guard flew an aerial assessment mission of Wake Island Sept. 2 to check for pollution releases. A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point in Kapolei, Hawaii took footage and pictures on the mission to be reviewed by Coast Guard and Air Force officials. The images didn't show any oil spills or hazardous-material releases, and less destruction than expected from Super Typhoon Ioke, but the Air Force needed people on the ground at Wake to determine the full extent of damage. 

Members of the 36th Contingency Response Group, 36th Civil Engineer Squadron from Andersen AFB, Guam and U.S. Naval Base Guam's Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 set sail Sept. 4th from U.S. Naval Base Guam on a four-day trip to the island. 

According to Maj. Patrick Poon, a 36th Mission Response Squadron member and team commander, "Our mission is to safely and efficiently assess the airfield and then provide information so our higher headquarters can determine the future use of Wake. We hope we can eventually ready the base for follow-on forces to come in and make any needed repairs." 

An 18-foot storm surge and 40-foot waves were expected to hit the tiny island where the runway lies only 14 feet above sea level. 

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sherman from Alameda, Calif., arrived Sept. 7 with members of the Coast Guard Pacific Strike Team which responds to potential oil and hazardous-material spills. The team conducted a detailed survey of the island to check the integrity of island structures. 

Members of the 36th CRG, completed their initial assessment of Wake Island Sept. 11, finding the island's runway intact and operational with fuel tanks secure, but runway lights were missing and there was minor damage to the fuels transfer system. 

Only three of the 31 transportation and fuels vehicles weren't operational; another nine needed minor maintenance, officials said. The power grid sustained extensive damage to switches and transformers, and power lines to most buildings and backup generators were damaged. 

The Andersen team cleared the runway and repaired a generator to provide power in billeting facilities for the follow-on 53-person assessment team of civil engineers and communications experts from the 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam, which flew into Wake Island Sept. 13 to assess damage. 

"Our job is to figure out the price tag on the damage," said Maj. Ron Pieri, 15th Civil Engineer Squadron operations officer. 

The storm damaged 70 percent of the buildings on Wake Island leaving water marks a foot high on their interior walls with large parts of their rooftops on the ground. While there was no running water, the response team found a water plant with about eight thousand gallons of water that could be purified. 

The Hickam AFB team will further assess Wake Island and provide PACAF leaders with information needed to decide its future, officials said. 

(Information provided by 36th Wing Public Affairs, 15th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, and Air Force Print News)