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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Friday morning was supposed to begin with a fun run.

But after hurricane-force winds swept through Thursday afternoon, causing millions of dollars in damage, those plans changed. Hundreds of airmen got their exercise on cleanup crews instead.

“We’re getting it done,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Yates, commander of the 31st Fighter Wing, surveying the damage and pitching in to help at each site he visited. “One tree at a time.”

Dozens of trees were uprooted around the base. Many of them provided unintended hazards for would-be sportsmen on the golf course. But airmen and visiting Air Force Academy cadets on site weren’t carrying clubs anyway. They held saws and rakes.

Elsewhere, airmen walked the base’s runway looking for debris. More trees were cut into pieces and damaged buildings were surveyed.

Nine people were injured in the storm, and all but one were treated and released Thursday. One of the injured was held overnight for observation and released Friday, said Master Sgt. Carole Steele, of the 31st Fighter Wing’s public affairs office. No other information about their injuries was released on Friday.

Steele said at least six buildings suffered major damage during the storm. At least 70 others suffered various levels of damage.

Steele said it was too early to put a price tag on the damage. Inspections at some sites, such as the Health and Wellness Center, were hampered due to fear of possible asbestos contamination.

Steele said units across the base were participating in the cleanup.

“Everyone’s pretty much pitching in, with detailed plans for every area of the base,” she said.

The flight line area, where the base’s F-16s take off, land and call home, was the heaviest hit by the freak storm, which the base’s weather detachment said was unprecedented. Winds reached 82 knots Thursday before the base’s power went out. The previous recorded high was 58 knots.

Forecasters discounted rumors of a tornado touching down, describing the incident as a “severe thunderstorm.”

A few areas of the base flooded by rain from the storm were drying out quickly Friday under steadily warming weather. Power was restored by the time people showed up for work in the morning and communications were back on line.

There appeared to be isolated areas outside the base still without power.

Trees and signs were knocked down, with the occasional stoplight rotated at the wrong angle. Italian work crews on and off the base were busy cleaning up as well.

Many of those stationed at Aviano had some cleaning up to do at their homes off base as well. A handful of cars around the base were severely damaged by the storm. Many others suffered lesser scrapes.

The storm had swept east and passed through Vicenza earlier in the day, but the Army reported no major damage at Caserma Ederle.

That wasn’t the case for the service at Aviano, where a Black Hawk helicopter was flipped and suffered major damage. Soldiers on site declined to talk on the record, saying an investigation would have to take place first.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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