By Lt. Col. Judy Steele
The Florida Wing’s Marco Island Senior Squadron, based near Hurricane Irma’s landfall, plans to resume operations after receiving significant damage from the storm’s northward track up the center of Florida’s peninsula.
The storm blasted the Florida Keys with 130 mph winds before traveling north to deliver a second strike to Marco Island as a Category 2 storm. Squadrons in the Florida Wing Group 5, including the Marco Island squadron, sustained 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, Marco Island Senior Squadron commander.
Many of the Marco Island unit’s 55 members are “snowbirds” who live in the area only during the winter months. During summer, the number shrinks to 15 to 18 members.
Since the storm, Corriveau has heard from about 10 members typically in the area during the off-season. The rest are still in locations after they “left for higher ground,” he said.
Most of the damage to members’ homes consisted of missing shingles, broken rain gutters, shredded landscaping and damage to pool screens, Corriveau said. Some areas aren’t expected to have power for several weeks.
The damage to the squadron’s facility — at the north end of Marco Island Executive Airport in a building that includes a hangar for the unit’s plane, offices and a squad room — was more severe.
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 aren’t yet known, but the plan is to rebuild, “just maybe not to (the original) extent,” he said.
Luckily, he said, the airplane was not in the hangar during the storm, having been moved to Daytona, Florida, for a 100-hour inspection and maintenance.
While the squadron rebuilds, Corriveau said the plane will be housed in an undamaged general aviation T-hangar at the Marco Island airport. A covered walkway only 10 feet away from the squadron’s building was still intact. “Not a single piece of metal was displaced,” he said.
“The community helped the squadron raise the finances for the building about seven years ago when their meeting place was about to be condemned, and we have a reserve built up to cover expenses,” Corriveau said.
The building will be closed until rebuilt, even though the offices and squad room weren’t damaged. The local Coast Guard Auxiliary unit, which also includes some CAP members, offered to lend its squad room to the unit.
More than 13,000 have reacted to 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 unit, Corriveau replied, “It is only a building and it will be repaired, and things will be back to normal eventually. Also, our people are OK.”
“We want to get back up and operational, as soon as possible,” he said. “We are part of the coastal patrol.”
The coastal patrols, a service to Florida communities provided since the early 1940s, are performed on the weekends. CAP pilots fly along the shoreline looking for hazards to navigation and for boaters in distress.