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Air Force Uses Thermal Imaging To Help Locate Those Buried In Deadly Tornado
By Steve Hall

May 21, 2013 - Nearly 250 members of the Oklahoma National Guard, as well as members of Tinker Air Force Base are assisting with victim search and security in Moore, Okla., where a tornado left at least 51 dead, including 20 children, authorities said.

The twister hit Monday, May 20, about 3:15 p.m. CDT, just three miles south of Tinker. Tinker Air Force Base officials activated the 507th Air Refueling Wing Crisis Action Team and initiated accountability of all personnel assigned to the wing.

"At this time, we are attempting to determine the specific impact to our personnel, their families and the local community," Col. Russell Muncy, the 507th ARW commander, said in a press release May 20.

Among National Guard members activated to assist in relief efforts were Airmen from the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron from nearby Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City.

In a video interview, 2nd Lt. Gabriel Bird said the unit members carry thermal imaging gear to help locate those buried in rubble. "Hopefully, we'll find survivors," Bird said.

Members also carried multi-band radios to communicate with ground and aircraft crews, and basic medical supplies, Bird said. "We're a pretty new unit, so we haven't supported any state emergencies." But Bird noted that many squadron members are veterans who have supported other disaster recovery operations when assigned to other units.

According to Tinker public affairs, 12 base firefighters and one safety officer were dispatched immediately to assist rescue efforts in the Moore area, and one surgeon was dispatched to the Oklahoma University Medical Center.


"In light of the devastating tornadoes that have hit the Oklahoma City area, I tasked the Airman and Family Readiness Center to stand up the Emergency Family Assistance Center 24/7 to ensure Tinker personnel and their families receive effective support during this most difficult time," said Col. Steven Bleymaier, commander of the 72nd Air Base Wing.



The Moore tornado currently ranked as an EF5, with wind intensity estimated at 210 miles per hour. Impacting Moore, Oklahoma and adjacent areas, killing at least 51 people, including 20 children, and injuring more than 240 others. In a news conference the governor said there were 237 confirmed injuries. The tornado was part of a larger weather system that had produced several other tornadoes over the previous two days. The tornado touched down at 2:45 p.m. CDT, staying on the ground for approximately 50 minutes over a 17-mile path. The tornado touched down west of Newcastle and crossed a heavily populated section of Moore. It was possibly over 1 mile wide at its peak.

Gov. Mary Fallin announced today that the White House has approved the state's request for disaster assistance for five Oklahoma counties hit hard by this week’s deadly tornadoes. The disaster assistance benefits individuals and business owners impacted by the severe storms that occurred May 18 and continuing in Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties.

Gov. Fallin noted with additional damage assessments other counties could be added to the declaration. The announcement comes in the wake of three days of tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding. “We very much appreciate the support and quick action of President Obama in approving Oklahoma's request for federal disaster assistance in the wake of today's devastating storms," Governor Fallin said.

The designation ensures federal assistance for housing repairs or temporary housing, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) low-interest loans for individuals and businesses to repair or replace damaged property, disaster unemployment assistance, and grants for serious needs and necessary disaster expenses not met by other programs. Additionally, the declaration grants public assistance for state and local governments in the five counties to assist with debris removal and emergency protective measures to include overtime for first responders. The declaration also provides direct federal assistance in the form of bottled water, blankets, meals-ready-to-eat and other bulk supplies.

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