US bases order curfews and closures as Soulik nears South Korea
By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 22, 2018
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea – U.S. bases in South Korea are battening down the hatches ahead of Tropical Storm Soulik, which is forecast to hit the peninsula on Thursday evening.
Kunsan Air Base has ordered its airmen to shelter inside their residences by 7 p.m. and has closed the base with the exception of emergency services.
Osan Air Base and Camp Humphreys sent its nonessential personnel home Thursday afternoon, and Humphreys has told them to remain home Friday.
The more northern bases, including Yongsan Garrison and Camp Casey, have maintained a mostly normal schedule but will see closures to most services to assess damages Friday.
Soulik, which has been downgraded from a typhoon to a tropical storm, is swinging right toward the mainland, threatening U.S. bases, the Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center said.
Forecasters say the center of the storm will pass 19 miles west of Kunsan Air Base with wind gust reaching 81 mph, then travel up the coast with its epicenter coming about 10 miles west of Osan Air Base and Camp Humphreys. Soulik is expected to travel up to Seoul, putting the country’s capital and Yongsan Garrison at risk.
Most of the 28,500 U.S. servicemembers in South Korea are stationed at the four bases in the storm's path and should expect up to 6 inches of rain.
The 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan activated their emergency operation center Wednesday, and airmen have been issued Meals, Ready to Eat as dining facilities and other nonessential facilities have closed.
The unit’s jets have been sheltered in hardened hangars, and 8th Fighter Wing troops have been working around-the-clock filling sandbags and boarding windows across the base, Kunsan official said.
“The safety of our people and the surrounding communities is one of our foremost concerns, and we are taking all the preliminary precautions to ensure our personnel stay safe and our resources remain unharmed,” said Col. John Bosone, 8th Fighter Wing commander.
“We are also working closely with our [South Korean] Air Force counterparts at the 38th Fighter Group to secure base infrastructure and aircraft in order to maintain mission capabilities during the typhoon,” said Bosone.
Osan Air Base, 80 miles to the north, has placed sandbags around some buildings and posted warning flyers across base. Osan is currently in the middle of its quarterly readiness exercise, which officials say they aren’t canceling yet.
“We are communicating to our personnel and their families on measures they can take to prepare their families and homes, but training will continue until we have a clearer picture of what the typhoon will do,” said 51st Fighter Wing spokeswoman 1st Lt. Rachel Salpietra.
A post on the 51st Fighter Wing's Facebook page said the base will remain open Thursday.
Nearby Camp Humphreys has postponed an orientation day for parents at its elementary schools.
“Right now, we are preparing for the high winds and rain that are expected during Typhoon Soulik. We are urging everyone to take the necessary precautions to stay safe during the storm,” said Sameria Zavala, a Camp Humphreys spokeswoman. She did not specify what specific precautions were being taken.
A Facebook post from U.S. Army Garrison Daegu said the bases in the southeastern Korean city should expect 3 to 4 inches of rain and advised servicemembers not to travel north.
The last major typhoon to hit South Korea was Typhoon Bolaven in 2012, which shuttered Department of Defense Education Activity schools and temporarily suspended the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise. That storm killed 19 people and caused about $15 million in damages, but U.S. bases were for mostly unscathed.