Civil Air Patrol squadrons located near Hurricane Irma's landfall plan to resume operations after receiving significant damage from the storm’s northward track up the center of Florida’s peninsula that affected CAP members and operations from coast to coast.
The storm blasted the Florida Keys with 130 mph winds before traveling north to make a second strike on Marco Island as a Category 2 storm. Squadrons located in the Marco Island/Naples area of Florida Wing’s Group 5 sustain the worst damage.
"Most members evacuated prior to the storm with only four deciding to hunker down and stay in the area,” said Maj. Robert Corriveau, commander of Florida Wing's Marco Island Senior Squadron.
Many of the Marco Island squadron’s 55 members are Florida “snowbirds” that live in the area only during the winter months. During the summer months, the number shrinks to 15-18 members.
Since the storm, Corriveau has heard from about 10 members typically here during the off-season. The rest of the members are still away where they "left for higher ground".
According to Corriveau, most of the damage sustained to member’s homes were missing shingles, broken rain gutters, shredded landscaping and damage to pool screens. Some areas were not expected to have electrical services restored for several weeks.
The damage to the squadron’s facility was more severe. The squadron’s base is located at the north end of Marco Island Executive Airport in a 60 x 60 ft. building that includes a hanger for the CAP airplane, offices and a squad room.
Corriveau said a microburst or small tornado made a direct hit on the hangar door wall and shoved it into the squad room and office area. Damage estimates are not yet known but the plan is to rebuild, "just maybe not to this extent".
Luckily, he said, the airplane was not in the hangar during the storm. The plane had recently been relocated to Daytona, Fla. for its 100-hour inspection and maintenance.
While the squadron rebuilds, the CAP airplane will be housed in a general aviation t-hangar at the Marco Island airport. Corriveau said these hangars were not damaged during the storm. The local pilots who came to move their airplanes left their cars here and not a single-one was damaged.
A covered walkway only 10 feet away from the squadron’s building was still intact with “not a single piece of metal was displaced”.
"The community helped the squadron raise the finances for the building about seven years ago when their meeting place was about to be condemned," said Corriveau, "and we have a reserve built up to cover expenses."
The building will be closed until it is rebuilt even though the offices and squad room were not damaged. The local Coast Guard Auxiliary Unit, of which also includes some CAP members offered to lend their squad room until squadron building is repaired.
It will be another week or two before we can become operational again due to antenna damage to our communications equipment. In spite of the personal impact from the storm, our members want to serve their community through CAP. One of our members, who has returned from "moving to higher ground" is unable to travel up to Punta Gorda, Fla. where the response operations are being launched because there is a lack of gas here in Marco Island.
Group 5 public affairs has reported an outpouring of emotion from CAP members on social media after viewing images of the damage to the Marco Island hangar. More than 13,000 have reacted to the social media posts by the squadron, with many expressing concerns about their fellow CAP members and asking how to help. Asked what message he would like to share from the squadron, "It is only a building," replied Corriveau, "and will be repaired and things will be back to normal eventually. Also, our people are okay."
Corriveau added, "we want to get back up and operational, as soon as possible. We are part of the coastal patrol,”
Coastal Patrols, a service to Florida communities that Civil Air Patrol has provided since the early 1940's, are performed on the weekends looking for hazards to navigation and boaters in distress.