A South Carolina airport with its runway closed quickly transformed itself into a small city populated by first responders, rescue pilots, and support staff as Hurricane Florence slammed into the Southeast coast on Sept. 13.
With its runway closed for lengthening from 5,200 feet to 6,000 feet, and only helicopter operations underway at Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport, Terry Connorton, the airport director, reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to offer the airport as a staging place for relief operations expected to be needed closer to the coast, he said.
The city-owned airport has a large apron capable of accommodating multiple aircraft. Weather was also favorable, with only a few inches of rain, and winds to 25 knots, expected in the area, in contrast to catastrophic conditions forecast for elsewhere, he said.
By midday Sept. 13, numerous helicopters and an estimated 200 ground ambulances had assembled at the airport—some of the helicopters flown in by FEMA contractors from as far away as Nevada, Connorton said by phone.
Large airport hangars were being filled with tables, chairs, and portable showers for first responders, and the entire airport community had gotten involved, he added. “The airport’s become a small town with all these different resources all over the place,” he said.
“We’re happy to do so,” he added. “FEMA’s success isn’t just about FEMA. It’s everybody pulling together to get this done. That’s what I’m seeing here.”