Updated Sept. 12
Tens of thousands of troops, their families and recruits are evacuating at least five military bases Tuesday as millions have been told to get out of Hurricane Florence's path, which could cause widespread devastation.
Florence is expected to make landfall Thursday night, and government leaders from the Carolinas up to Maryland have already declared states of emergency. While the storm has weakened slightly, the National Hurricane Center is warning that it could still pick up speed, making it one of the strongest hurricanes facing North and South Carolina in decades.
The Virginia National Guard is planning to activate up to 1,500 troops for possible assistance during the hurricane, and Gov. Ralph Northam has authorized another 6,000 to remain on standby.
Two Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crews flew to Savannah, Georgia, on Wednesday in preparation for Hurricane Florence response efforts. The service has also moved some of its cutters, aircraft and other assets out of the storm's path and warned the public that Coasties might not be available to respond during or immediately after the storm.
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Military bases from Virginia down to South Carolina fall in the evacuation zones and, so far, five commanders have ordered service members and their families to prepare to leave their homes.
Here's a look at the bases affected so far, and which installations could be next.
Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina
Recruits at the fabled training depot just north of Hilton Head will begin relocating at noon Tuesday to Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany in Georgia, where they will continue their training.
"I have determined the safest course of action is to evacuate," Brig. Gen. James Glynn, Parris Island's commanding general, said Monday.
Charlie Company, which is expected to graduate this week, will be moved to Albany, where it will hold its ceremony. Family is not permitted to attend, but Glynn said the event will be streamed on Parris Island's website and social media channels.
Non-essential military personnel and civilian employees have been directed to move at least 100 miles to safety, but no more than 400. They'll be reimbursed for authorized evacuation expenses, including tolls and lodging, and are directed to remain in those locations until their chains of command instruct them to return.
The evacuation order also applies to Marine recruiting offices in the area that will be affected by the storm.
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina
Beaufort County is one of 25 the South Carolina governor ordered to evacuate, and that includes all non-essential military personnel there.
Like Parris Island, that evacuation begins Tuesday at noon.
"As commanders, we have a responsibility to each of you and your families," Col. Timothy Miller, the air station's commanding officer, said in a video message released Monday. "For your safety and security, we have issued this evacuation order well before the storm in an effort to ensure everyone is able to seek refuge before the storm impacts the area."
The evacuation order is not optional, Miller added. Families could begin departing the area before noon Tuesday.
Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina
Personnel at Joint Base Charleston were ordered to begin evacuations Monday night.
"The [evacuation order] has been issued to ensure the safety of our personnel and their families in support of [Gov. Henry] McMaster's evacuation efforts," Col. Terrence Adams, 628th Air Base Wing and Joint Base Charleston commander, said in a statement.
Those considered non-essential should contact their duty sections for further instructions on evacuations, and to set up transportation for anyone who needs it.
Personnel there are also in the process of moving the base's C-17 Globemaster III aircraft to safe haven locations.
Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia
Eligible service members and their families were authorized to begin leaving Joint Base Langley-Eustis starting early Tuesday morning.
"Hurricane Florence, with catastrophic impact, winds, storm surge and flooding ... makes the evacuation area dangerous and uninhabitable," the evacuation order issued Monday states.
Everyone authorized to leave the base must do so by Wednesday at 6 p.m., according to the order. Evacuees are authorized to temporarily relocate no more than 750 miles from base.
Troops and their families are responsible for making sure their pets or service animals are removed from the base.
Naval Air Station Oceana-Dam Neck Annex, Virginia
All Navy and civilian personnel who live in the Hampton Roads area and fall under Virginia's evacuation zone A have been authorized to evacuate.
"The safety of our personnel and their families is my top priority right now," Rear Adm. Charles Rock, commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, said Tuesday. "... Navy Region Mid-Atlantic has been working around the clock to provide support and information during this very stressful time."
Troops and their families can check www.knowyourzoneva.org to see what evacuation zone they fall under. Those authorized to leave can move within 500 miles of the designated remote safe haven area of Asheville, North Carolina. All others should proceed to the remote safe haven area designated by their parent chain of command.
"Roadways, interstates and highways will be congested as residents will be traveling to various safe havens," Rock said. "I ask that everyone traveling please keep safety in mind and remember to muster with their chain of command when they reach safe haven."
Personnel at the Dam Neck Annex have also been told to prepare for evacuation. Advancement exams for all sailors scheduled to take them have been canceled. Make-up dates will be announced at a later date, according to a message posted Monday.
Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
Marines and sailors at Camp Lejeune aren't facing a mandatory evacuation, but most will be allowed to leave after 4 p.m. Tuesday and will be granted special liberty status through the weekend.
That leaves those who choose to evacuate paying for travel and lodging on their own.
"Non-essential personnel are free to voluntarily depart and relocate their families to a site within a 500 mile radius of Jacksonville, NC," officials said in a Tuesday statement. "Families can also be moved to one of the emergency shelters on base, or in the surrounding area.
"Marines living in the barracks will shelter in place in the barracks or relocate to areas designated by their command."
Everyone is expected to be back at work on Monday at 7 a.m. Commanders should determine what personnel and services are considered essential during the storm.
On High Alert
Several military bases remain in Florence's paths, but have not been given official evacuation orders yet. Some of those bases include:
- Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina
- Fort Jackson, South Carolina
- Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina
- Fort Bragg, North Carolina
- Joint Expeditionary Base Fort Story, Virginia
The storm prompted Fort Jackson officials to cancel this week's Basic Combat Training family day activities and formal graduation ceremony for about 1,000 new soldiers.
"They will still have a local ceremony in their units, it just won't be involving families," Pat Jones, a spokesman for Fort Jackson, told Military.com.
Jackson officials decided to cancel family day activities for Wednesday and Thursday's graduation rather than postpone it because the post holds BCT graduation every week.
"If we were to actually delay it, we could throw them out of their next class," Jones said.
-- Military.com's Matthew Cox contributed to this report.
-- Gina Harkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.