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South Carolina Air National Guard responds to Hurricane Matthew

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Stephen Hudson
  • 169th Fighter Wing
One year to the day after responding to the historic and devastating floods which impacted South Carolina, the men and women of the Air National Guard were again called to state active duty - this time for Hurricane Matthew.

Hurricane Matthew was a Category 4 storm with sustained winds clocked above 145 mph as it moved across Haiti, the Bahamas and set its sights on the southeastern United States. Hurricane Matthew moved very close to the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla., Matthew made one official U.S. landfall on Oct. 8 southeast of McClellanville, as a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds.

Prior to landfall, Governor Nikki Haley issued a state of emergency and a mandatory evacuation of the coastal counties. The SCANG was already preparing for the storm by activating the Crisis Action Team in the Command Post. On Thursday, Oct. 6, 169th Fighter Wing leadership ordered the remaining F-16s on base sheltered in available on-base hangar space.

As Matthew's winds and rains lashed the state, the SCANG members manned the McEntire CAT and supported 24-hour airfield ops, staffed the Air Operations Branch, Emergency Support Function 19 the military support function for SCEMD, Joint Operations Center and State Emergency Operations Center, as well as forward deployed for Public Affairs response. Some 50 Swamp Fox Airmen were on State Active Duty supporting the hurricane response.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Justin Puro, who served as the Air Operations Branch director during the Matthew response, said the role of the Air Operations Branch is to coordinate the air response between seven agencies and prioritizes resource requests. The Air Operations Branch is located on the main floor of the SEOC and began working on Oct. 5. 

During the immediate response to Hurricane Matthew the National Guard here in South Carolina was supported by air assets from other states using the Emergency Management Assistance Compact or EMAC. States such as North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Maryland and Pennsylvania brought aircraft and the Air Operations Branch managed the air space leading to 288 logged flight hours with 25 search and rescue operations conducted. 

"As Hurricane Matthew approached, our Airmen were eager and ready to help," said Brig. Gen. Scott Lambe, Chief of Staff, South Carolina Air National Guard. "As we did with Vigilant Guard '15 and the floods in October 2015, our Airmen seamlessly moved into place where needed and tasked and performed their jobs superbly."

Lambe also credited the Airmen on base who were not called to State Active Duty and none the less did many behind the scenes efforts such as keeping the air field and air traffic control tower open.

Airmen also worked at the State Emergency Operations Center in Emergency Support Function 19 and 15 coordinating the Guard's assistance to the state.

Hurricane Matthew caused tide levels at the Charleston Harbor to peak at their third highest level on record with the morning high tide on Oct. 8, the highest levels there, since Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and over a foot higher than the early October 2015 flood event. Water was entering homes on West Ashley in Charleston, according to the National Weather Service.

Early Oct. 8, the National Weather Service office in Wilmington, N.C., issued its first ever flash flood emergency for Horry County, including the Myrtle Beach and Conway areas, due to the combination of rainfall and storm surge flooding. Winds hit 76 mph at Folly Beach. By that afternoon, water levels were topping five feet above normal at Oyster Landing, near Georgetown and at Myrtle Beach.

The National Weather Service recorded 11 inches of rain at Hilton Head Island and 10.48 inches in Charleston causing flooding and washed out roads.
After Matthew hit, 13 Airmen from the 169th Security Forces Squadron headed to Bluffton to support local law enforcement.

"It was important that we could assist in Bluffton, because a lot of people don't know our capabilities, or that we can provide assistance," said Master Sgt. Avery Weaver, the swing-shift supervisor assigned to the 169th Security Forces Squadron. "While doing law enforcement duties, we ensured the general safety and welfare of the citizens of South Carolina."

Here on base, Hurricane Matthew downed trees blocking roads and knocking out power and the Civil Engineer Squadron immediately began clean-up efforts.

Lambe said the men and women of the South Carolina Air National Guard were lauded for their work including from the SC Emergency Management Division and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

"It is part of our oath of office to support the governor and our state," Lambe said. "What can be more gratifying than to help out your fellow South Carolina neighbors in their time of need?"