By 1st Lt. Sonia DixonOctober 13, 2018
PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Florida Army National Guard members aerially scout the areas affected by Hurricane Michael across the panhandle Oct. 11.
Aerial surveillance is part of the pre-staging process following the strike of a hurricane that allows Guardsmen to assess the damage.
Army National Guard 1st Lt. Curtis Burnside, assistant brigade S3 for the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Pinellas Park, Florida, worked with local authorities in order to conduct aerial reconnaissance and to find where help is needed most.
"It gives us a bird's eye view of where to start," Burnside said. "There are different parts of the area that are cut off from the mainland, so we need to get to those people first and use the engineer assets we have to move there.
"Once we get that secured and cleared, then we can start moving across the area to help other people."
Flying the helicopter was Bay County Sheriff's Office Chief Pilot Larry Kennedy.
"We got called from the National Guard to find out which areas need to be concentrated in once the Guard arrives," Kennedy said. "We found that Lynn Haven, Callaway and Mexico Beach were the most devastated areas."
Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida as a category 4 hurricane with maximum wind speeds of 155 miles per hour- 1 mph shy of being a category 5.
"I have been flying here for 20 years, and we fly off of landmarks." Kennedy said. "There were a few times where I didn't know where I was because things were gone.
"The buildings I normally key off of weren't there and the trees that were all gone made everything different."
Burnside, alongside Kennedy, witnessed vast destruction as they flew above.
"We saw lots of down power lines, trees blown over, roofs pulled off houses, and houses blown over," Burnside said. "There was a cruise ship blown over and bent cell towers."
While in flight, the Soldiers and local authorities measured the destruction and outlined the boundaries of the areas that need support.
"Priorities would be landlocked places- anything that are cut off from the rest of the mainland," Burnside stated.
Port St. Joe is the eastern boundary of the devastation and Panama City Beach is the western boundary.
"Our priorities are to get anyone between those two boundaries cut off from the mainland rescued."
After conducting aerial surveillance, the National Guard is ready to take action and assist in relief efforts.
"The 53rd IBCT is engaged in security missions," Burnside said. "We're conducting search and rescue missions with Dade County, we are going to conduct about 30 points of distribution missions throughout the area in Panama City, and we are ready to do disaster clean up and relief."