MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

May 28, 2013

CAP units assigned to spot tornado damage

— Aerial view

can find spots

not easily visible from ground

MOORE (AP) — The Civil Air Patrol normally aids in searches for lost and missing planes, but given Oklahoma’s unpredictable weather, the local agency is often pressed into disaster response.

After the two tornadoes that killed a total of 26 Oklahoma residents last week, the Air Force auxiliary has been asked to document damage at up to 14,000 pieces of property hit by a May 20 storm.

“We do more disaster relief than we do search and rescue,” said Capt. Rick Rutledge.

From the sky, air patrol volunteers can often spot a piece of damage that government agencies or relief workers might not know exists. They also can share information from storm tracks, letting forecasters obtain information from areas inaccessible from the ground.

“They can look at the photos and say, ‘That was a tornado’ or ‘Those were straight-line winds,” Rutledge said.

Before each flight, typically in a small plane, the volunteers are given a list of things to accomplish — see where a tornado finally lifted or measure the storm’s width, for example. The same rules apply when they fly after wildfires, especially when flames stretch beyond the nearest road.

Last year, the local CAP had five search and rescue missions in Oklahoma, but 17 missions for state emergency officials and others.

Oklahoma’s transportation secretary, Gary Ridley, said aerial photographs of damage are especially helpful.

“We can see before and after and we can make assessments of where help is needed,” said Ridley, who traveled Monday to the severely damaged area near the Plaza Towers Elementary School to thank 400 state transportation workers hauling debris away.

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