Members of the Florida National Guard prepare their equipment in Mayo, Fla., as they wait for instructions on where to respond, after the passage of Hurricane Idalia on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

Members of the Florida National Guard prepare their equipment in Mayo, Fla., as they wait for instructions on where to respond, after the passage of Hurricane Idalia on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

WASHINGTON — Military bases in South Carolina, North Carolina and other parts of the Southeast made last-minute preparations and fortifications Wednesday as they braced for the arrival of Hurricane Idalia — a major storm that caused heavy damage earlier when it made landfall in Florida.

“Personnel safety is my top priority,” said Capt. Ian Johnson, a Navy regional commander who oversees more than a dozen military installations in the Southeast. “The forecast for Idalia remains uncertain, however personnel … are preparing for its arrival and will work to keep our personnel, assets and installations informed and safe.”

The National Hurricane Center said at about 2 p.m. ET that the center of Idalia was located about 10 miles southwest of Waycross, Ga., in the southeastern part of the state, and about 100 miles southwest of the Georgia-South Carolina border. It was moving northeast at about 20 mph and had maximum sustained winds of about 80 mph, making it a Category 1 storm. The center said Idalia made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast early Wednesday as a Category 3 hurricane, which packs winds between 111 mph and 129 mph.

Joint Base Charleston in southeastern South Carolina, Shaw Air Force Base in the central part of the state and other bases in the region yet to be impacted by Idalia were busy Wednesday making final preparations, which included moving some ships and vehicles to safer locations or securing them if they couldn’t be moved in time.

“Aircraft will initiate evacuations from area airfields or be secured in hangars rated to withstand hurricane-force winds,” Johnson said, adding the precautions will reduce the risk of severe damage to ships, planes and piers from the elements.

Joint Base Charleston was set to its Hurricane Condition of Readiness 2 early Wednesday, meaning destructive force winds of at least 50 mph are expected within 24 hours. Under that condition, military personnel are urged to take precautions such as boarding windows, closing shutters and drapes, and storing water. Service members were also encouraged to fill their bathtubs with water in case normal water service is affected for an extended amount of time.

Joint Base Charleston closed Wednesday morning, and Shaw Air Force Base said its airfield would close early Wednesday evening. The base said as many as 8 inches of rain are expected to fall in the Sumter area, where it is located. The storm is also expected to cause potentially severe flooding.

“It is expected that Hurricane Idalia will impact Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and surrounding areas with periods of strong winds, heavy rains, flooding of urban and low-lying areas, potential flash floods and coastal storm surges,” according to officials at the base, which is on the southeastern South Carolina coast.

According to the hurricane center, Idalia is projected to continue along a northeastern track across the South Carolina coastline on Wednesday and parts of North Carolina’s southern coast on Thursday.

“On the forecast track, the center of Idalia will continue moving across southeastern Georgia through [Wednesday] evening, near the coast of South Carolina tonight and just offshore the coast of southern North Carolina on Thursday,” the NHC said. “Idalia is then expected to move east-southeastward over the western Atlantic on Friday.”

The hurricane center said Idalia should weaken to a tropical storm and lose strength later Wednesday as it continues to move over land. A hurricane becomes a tropical storm once maximum sustained winds fall below 74 mph.

Some military bases in Florida and Georgia saw severe rains and hurricane-force winds late Tuesday and into Wednesday, such as Moody Air Force Base in southern Georgia and MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.

“All base facilities are closed and will not reopen until recovery efforts are complete,” officials at Moody AFB said. “Only identified mission essential personnel are authorized on base during the closure.”

“[An] assessment team will reestablish security, assess damage and risks, and restore critical infrastructure and utilities, weather permitting,” said officials at MacDill AFB, which is the headquarters for Central Command and Special Operations Command. “Only the assessment team will be allowed on base.”

MacDill AFB said it would remain closed until at least Thursday. Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle, which saw some effects from Idalia’s outer bands, said Wednesday that it has returned to normal operations. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, which lies on North Carolina’s southeastern coastline, is in the path to see severe, but weakened, weather conditions Thursday.

“Although Hurricane Idalia is expected to impact us as a tropical storm, we can still expect heavy rainfall between 6 to 8 inches to begin (Wednesday) evening and last into the afternoon Thursday,” said officials at Camp Lejeune, which is headquarters for Marine Special Operations Command and the II Marine Expeditionary Force. “Out of an abundance of caution, only essential personnel are required to report to work [Thursday].”

The governors of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina declared states of emergency ahead of Idalia’s arrival, making them eligible for federal aid. By midafternoon Wednesday, President Joe Biden had approved Florida’s emergency declaration.

“If there is anything the states need right now, I’m ready to mobilize that support,” Biden said in a news conference, noting he’s spoken to all four governors about coordinating relief efforts.

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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