Airmen add up damage at Wake Island

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt Chris Vadnais
  • Air Force Print News
Airmen from the 15th Civil Engineer Squadron and the 15th Communications Squadron from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, are working around the clock to provide accurate estimates of the storm damage on Wake Island caused by Super Typhoon Ioke.

Super Typhoon Ioke brought 155 mph winds and 190 mph gusts to the small atoll Aug. 31, just days after its 188 residents had been evacuated on two of Hickam's C-17 Globemaster IIIs.

The team is finding many of the buildings are reparable electrically, if not already operational. However, there is considerable structural damage to buildings all over the island.

Staff Sgt. Song Lee of the 15th CE sat down for a break on a rooftop that had been blown to the ground.

"This building split in half," he said. "Half of it collapsed -- which we're sitting on -- and the rest of it doesn't look like it's in too good of shape."

The walls of the half that was still standing were gone, the roof severely sagged and piles of wreckage and debris surrounded its feeble frame.

"When we run into something as bad as this, all we can do is chalk it up as lost," he said. "There's just no way to fix something like this. You'd have to bulldoze it and start from scratch."

The island is littered with scenes like this. Teams are finding sand two feet deep in the living rooms of homes, collapsed ceilings, blown-away roofs and extensive water damage.

The seaside wall of one beach home was blown through the house into the opposing wall. It took with it all that was in its path: a treadmill, couches, chairs and tables. Through the gaping hole that was once a wall, the scene looked as if someone had turned the house on end.

Other areas fared better. The power production plant suffered little damage. Jimmie Taylor, the island's power production superintendent, said the plant was running on backup power while his team worked minor repairs on the primary system, but the entire island could safely be powered from that backup system. Meanwhile, his team of contractors worked to repair numerous transformers around the island that suffered water damage.

"The guys really earn their pay when there are transformer issues," said Mr. Taylor. "They work hard and they work until they get done."

The assessment seems to be moving along quickly, with seven of 14 zones already visually assessed. However, Maj. Ron Pieri, 15th CES operations officer, said a quality assessment is more important than a quick one.

"Any person could come through here and say 'that building is trashed,'" Major Pieri said. "It takes these multi-skilled technicians to properly evaluate damage and determine if something can be repaired, renovated or if it's really got to be destroyed."

"They're working as fast as is safely possible," said Major Pieri. "They know we're on a schedule and they know they have to be thorough."