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Air Force chief of staff praises community response to tornado at Wright-Patterson

A tornado uprooted numerous trees around the base proper, and damaged approximately 150 homes at the Properties at Wright-Field near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on May 27, 2019.

JEAN-PAUL ARNAUD-MARQUEZ/U.S. AIR FORCE

By MAX FILBY | Dayton Daily News, Ohio | Published: June 1, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — As the Air Force chief of staff toured tornado damage in a housing neighborhood for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base personnel, he noticed one thing in particular: an overwhelming sense of community.

Tree limbs were still strewn about in the Prairies at Wright Field neighborhood Friday. But, it was a big improvement from Monday when first responders couldn't even reach parts of the housing development due to roads blocked by debris.

Around 150 homes were damaged by an EF-3 tornado in the Prairies neighborhood including 14 homes that have since been deemed "uninhabitable," according to Wright-Patt. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein toured the damage Friday afternoon and talked to families impacted by the storm that spawned 14 tornadoes throughout Ohio on Memorial Day.

"What I saw, quite frankly, is the results of a very proactive community, great first responders and really good privatized housing contractors that rolled up their sleeves," Goldfein said.

Workers and volunteers cleared downed trees and debris throughout the week at the Prairies. By the end of the day Tuesday, all roads had been cleared for traffic, electrical service was restored and an inspection for any exposed or downed lines was conducted, according to the base.

Displaced families were directed to temporary lodging facilities to ensure they had a safe place to stay during recovery operations, according to the base. Working with the privatized housing contractor for the Prairies neighborhood, base officials inspected all units for structural damage.

One military family Goldfein met had their home destroyed by the tornado.

Capt. Thomas O'Neil, his wife Jenna and their two children were hiding in a broom closet when the tornado struck and blew in their front door. After the storm passed, the O'Neil family moved into a hotel for the week and were able to pick up keys to a new home in the Prairies neighborhood Friday.

O'Neil said he was grateful that the tornado aftermath was getting attention from the Air Force's most senior uniformed officer.

"Air Force leaders are awesome," O'Neil said. "They're always engaged like that so I wouldn't expect anything less."

Air Force bases around the United States have suffered their fair share of natural disasters over the last year or so. Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida was hit by Hurricane Michael and the damage was reportedly "catastrophic." Then on Jan. 19, Tyndall was hit by a tornado. Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska suffered from major flooding.

The Air Force, Goldfein said, relies on Congress to cover the cost of catastrophes.

Disagreements between Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. have prevented Tyndall and Offutt from getting all the disaster funding they need. The lack of funding means the military may have to delay nearly $4 million in projects at Wright-Patt.

Despite the Washington gridlock, Goldfein said he's confident Congress will hammer out a deal to fund recovery efforts at each Air Force base.

"We'll continue to work with Congress to make sure we have the supplemental relief that we need to respond to the storms," Goldfein said. "We know there's a number of members of Congress that are working really hard. It hasn't come through yet but we're hopeful."

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