By RUSTY MARKS
The State Journal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Fourteen members of the West Virginia National Guard boarded planes Wednesday to fly to the U.S. Virgin Island and help with flood assessment there.
West Virginia National Guard Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer has been in contact with the commander of the Virgin Islands National Guard since Hurricane Irma first made landfall there Sept. 6, according to National Guard Major Wally Hatfield.
Hoyer wanted to know what help island authorities might need in cleanup and recovery. Hatfield said.
St. Croix was largely spared by the storm.
Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp told news outlets it could be months before electricity is completely restored in the islands.
Hurricane Irma left behind at least 38 dead in the Caribbean before going on to pummel Cuba, the Florida Keys and mainland Florida.
West Virginia is sending a team of 14 state Guard members to the islands to help with damage assessment in the hurricane-ravaged area, Hatfield said.
“We were just down in Georgia, doing the hurricane,” said Capt. Eric Waugh, one of those on the way to the Virgin Islands. “We drove in yesterday, and now we’re deploying to the Virgin Islands.”
Unsure of what kind of damage they may encounter or what resources might be available once they’re on the ground, state Guard members are taking their own vehicles, supplies, food, water and clothing for the mission, loaded onto two C-130 cargo aircraft.
Lt. Dwight Siemiaczko, another West Virginia guardsman on his way to the Virgin Islands, said he and other soldiers were proud to go to the islands and lend a hand. He said the West Virginia National Guard has some experience in dealing with similar disasters.
“Hurricane Irma burst through the Virgin Islands,” he said. “Here in West Virginia, we’re all too familiar with flooding.”
Hoyer has said the West Virginia National Guard’s response and rebuilding efforts in conjunction with other state officials following June 23, 2016 flooding in the state have served as a model for other National Guard units around the country in how to respond to a flooding emergency.
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