Wake evacuated -- Airmen airlift 188 from Pacific Island

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Andrew Leonhard
  • 15th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Airmen from the 15th Airlift Wing and Hawaii Air National Guard evacuated 188 people from Wake Island Aug. 28 on two C-17 Globemaster IIIs, before Super Typhoon Ioke reached the tiny U.S. Territory.

The evacuees -- active-duty Airmen, Department of Defense and Thai national contractors -- filed onto the C-17s with the morning sky not showing any signs of a Category 5 "super typhoon" just hours away.

"We simply left the engines running on the planes, opened up the backdoors and on-loaded everybody," said Maj. James Hill, 535th Airlift Squadron. 

The entire process took less than an hour and the two C-17s were rolling down Wake's runway en route to Hawaii.

The super typhoon's eye is expected to come within 13 miles of Wake Island. An 18-foot storm surge and 40-foot waves are expected. The runway on the island is just 14 feet above sea level. Wake Island is both a scientific outpost and a midpoint air base for Air Force planes flying across the Pacific Ocean.

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

The last evacuation from Wake was in 1967 when Typhoon Sarah engulfed the island.

According to the captain, a visual flyover will take place and then an assessment team will be sent back to the island, after the typhoon passes. 

"We will take an initial team in to do the assessment of all the facilities and the electricity and water and make sure it is safe before we bring everybody back," said Captain Harris, who's been on the island a little more than a month. 

Two people a little more familiar to the island are Jimmie and Petsy Taylor. The Taylor's are American contract workers who arrived in September 2005 and call Wake Island home. 

"We sold the house we lived in for 27 years and gave most of our stuff to our family to move here," said Mrs. Taylor. "I'm worried if the damage is too great, we may not have a place to call home." 

Mrs. Taylor is the technical librarian and the Morale, Welfare and Recreation officer, and her husband is the supervisor for the power plant on the island. 

"We spent the past few days packing and covering everything we could," she said. "It's a wonderful place to live and I just hope I get to come back." 

According to the National Weather Service Central Pacific Hurricane Center, Hurricane Ioke is the strongest Central Pacific hurricane in more than decade. When it passed the International Date Line it was renamed as a typhoon. Classified as a Category 5 "super typhoon," Ioke is expected to hit around 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday.