Wake Island, an almost heart-shaped coral atoll just north of the Marshall Islands has a coastline just 12 miles long, and a land area of 2.85 square miles. It is administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior and there were approximately 190 people living there, until it was evacuated ahead of Super Typhoon Ioke.
The United States Air Force manages Wake Island and it is home to a missile facility operated by the United States Army. As would be expected in those circumstances, access to the island is restricted.
Most activity occurs on Wake Island, where there is an Airfield with a single 9,800-foot runway.
Since Super Typhoon Ioke passed through, the Airforce is sending Airmen and Sailors from Andersen around 1,500 miles to Wake Island to inspect it and investigate how it fared during the typhoon last week.
Knowing that they were in for a rough time, On Monday, the Air Force evacuated all residents, 188 people, according to the Air Force, using two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. Those evacuated include Airmen, Department of Defense employees and Defense contractors. The typhoon arrived three days later, on Thursday. The Air Force reports say winds averages 155 mph, with gusts to 190 mph.
A likely reason for the evacuation this time was the devastation that occurred on September 16, 1967, when the eye of Typhoon Sarah passed over the island bringing 130 knot winds from the North, and then from the South, as it passed over. On that occasion, all of the non-reinforced structures on the island were demolished. Thankfully, although there were some injuries, none were serious. The population was evacuated after the storm.
This time, a 18-foot storm surge and 40-foot waves were expected to hit the island. The runway is 14 feet above sea level, so extensive damage is expected.
Andersen Air Force Base is sending the 36th Contingency Response Group and U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 by ship, on a four-day trip to the island, starting September 4, leaving from the U.S. Naval Base in Guam.
Wake Island is 1,500 miles east of Guam and 2,300 miles west of Hawaii. It serves as a scientific outpost and is a midpoint air base for Air Force planes that fly across the Pacific Ocean.
Once at Wake Island, the team’s brief is to undertake initial assessments of the typhoon’s impact on island infrastructure and airfield operations.
“We went ahead and prepared all the facilities as best we could,” said Air Force Capt. Nate Harris, Wake Island commander, before Ioke hit. “Now all we can do is sit and wait and see what damage occurs.”
Information for this report was sent by 36th Wing Public Affairs and 15th Airlift Wing Public Affairs.
Editor’s Note: Wake Island was included into the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument by President George W. Bush, January 6, 2009. Wikipedia has more information on its Wake Island page.