By, Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Thirty Canadian military members and their families were forced to evacuate their Florida homes and are now living in a hotel after a hurricane ripped through the U.S. air force base where they are stationed.
The ordeal began earlier this month when the Canadians were moved to Mississippi before Hurricane Michael slammed into Tyndall Air Force Base, where Canada has a small contingent of service personnel.
Tyndall is home to the U.S. headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defence Command, the joint Canadian-American early warning system that is charged with protecting the continent from airborne threats.
While the Canadians were able to escape injury, NORAD deputy commander Lt.-Gen. Chris Coates said the hurricane damaged much of the base — including the Canadians’ rented accommodations.
It also knocked out the base’s electricity, water and sewage and forced NORAD to shift some of its operations to an alternative site in Virginia, where the Canadians are working on a rotation.
While the focus is on getting them back into their homes, Coates said some are too damaged and “interim” accommodations will found. Officials, meanwhile, are now assessing each families’ needs.
“We’ve deployed specialists down to Florida to deal with what amounts to really pretty significant challenges,” Coates said in a telephone interview from Colorado Spring, Colo.
“Schools aren’t operating at the moment. They may have lost significant amounts of their personal possessions. And its hard to re-establish normalcy or order, and that’s really what’s been going on.”
While Hurricane Michael imposed a heavy personal cost on the Canadian service members and their families, the U.S. military could end up paying a hefty financial price as it tries to salvage 17 F-22 stealth fighters that stationed at Tyndall and caught in the storm.