Florida Guardsmen Act Fast to Keep Key West Citizens Safe
Soldiers from the Florida Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, talk to a resident swimming in the flooded section of the White Street Fishing Pier in Key West, Fla., Sept. 9, 2008. People braved the dangerous conditions at the end of the pier as storm surge from Hurricane Ike crashed over the barriers and flooded the pier. Guardsmen and Key West police officers warned the swimmers of the unsafe conditions, and soon the pier was closed to visitors by city officials. In the background, a man holds a child in the dangerous surf. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa, Florida National Guard

KEY WEST, Fla. (Sept. 9, 2008) - Wading into the waist-deep storm surge from Hurricane Ike Tuesday morning, members of the Florida Army National Guard helped local law-enforcement officers avert what could have been a disaster for some people ignoring safety warnings.

Even though officials in the Keys urged people to stay indoors, the thrill-seekers - including small children - waded through the choppy water to the barrier at the end of the pier as the three-to-four-foot waves crashed over them.

"This was one of the furthest outreaching piers they have in Key West," said a staff sergeant who was part of the four-person Special Forces reconnaissance team. "We just went out there to see what the winds were like. As we got out there, the winds picked up from about 40 mph to 60 mph, and we noticed there was a bunch of kids -- anywhere from 5 to 10 years old -- out there with parents and playing around in the waves."

The Soldier, who was not identified due to security concerns about his normal federal mission, said the Guard unit was working closely with local law-enforcement and city emergency-management officials to assess damage and flooding from Hurricane Ike.

"It was very unsafe," he explained. "Within the 20 minutes we were out there, I estimated the winds actually picked up to over 60 mph."

After warning the swimmers about the dangerous surf, the Soldiers reported the activity to Key West police officers who made the decision to clear the pier. The team assisted as a uniformed police officer ordered the swimmers from the dangerous pier.

"Right as we were leaving, things started getting really bad," the Soldier added. "The dock is made of concrete; the high winds and the waves that were coming over could have easily knocked one of the kids down and ground them into the pavement. It wouldn't have been pretty."

As rain bands from Hurricane Ike rolled across the Keys, tornado warnings were frequent, and city officials continued to monitor the situation as weather conditions worsened. Earlier Tuesday, an overturned truck on U.S. 1 had blocked traffic in and out of the Lower Keys at Mile Marker 72, and minor coastal flooding was prevalent in low-lying areas, according to officials at the Key West Emergency Operations Center.

The Florida Army National Guard Soldiers continued damage and flooding assessment patrols throughout the day, assisting Key West emergency responders.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa serves in the Florida National Guard Public Affairs Office.)

Page last updated Wed September 10th, 2008 at 06:31