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Airport transforms itself for storm reliefAirport transforms itself for storm relief

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.

  • First responders gather at Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport in South Carolina during staging for Hurricane Florence relief efforts. Photo courtesy of Terry Connorton.
  • The general aviation airport at Spartanburg, South Carolina, is a staging ground for emergency responders and disaster-relief workers providing aid in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Photo courtesy of Terry Connorton.
  • Dozens of ambulances massed at Spartansburg, South Carolina, before the arrival of Hurricane Florence. Photo courtesy of Terry Connorton.
  • FEMA aircraft staged at Spartanburg, South Carolina, before Hurricane Florence strikes the coast. Photo courtesy of Terry Connorton.

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.”

Relief ops being staged at Spartanburg, South Carolina, as Hurricane Florence approaches. Photo courtesy of Terry Connorton.
Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Weather, Airport, Public Benefit Flying

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