Elizabeth City, N.C. — Coast Guard aircraft and crews from Florida and Georgia are in Elizabeth City this week to help assess damage from Superstorm Sandy up and down the East Coast.
The Coast Guard station in Elizabeth City wasn't hit by Sandy, so it's an ideal coastal location for a damage assessment staging area.
Flying as far as the New York/New Jersey border on Wednesday, crews are specifically looking for storm-damaged ports to determine whether they are safe to reopen.
"(We're making sure that) the routes the ships use in and out is clear, that it's clearly marked," said Lt. Cmdr. Krys Finch, a Coast Guard pilot from Savannah, Ga. "That there is no other debris and that there's no other damage, so that the ships can safely enter and exit the harbor."
Jacksonville, Fla., pilot Lt. Josh Wine said assessing damage by air is easier and faster than by ship, though Tuesday's conditions were dangerous for everyone working the coastline.
"What we did yesterday, doing a port assessment in Norfolk, honestly could not have been done by a boat. I mean, the conditions were bad enough in the air," he said. "There were 30 to 40 knot winds up there. We were being pushed all around."
Making matters worse for storm victims, Wine said, is cold weather in many parts of the East Coast.
"In hurricanes, you don't think of cold weather associated with it, so it's a whole other thing when your house gets blown away, and you're out in the elements and it's freezing cold," he said.
Finch said Coast Guard crews from the Southeast are used to flying into hurricane-ravaged areas, but Sandy's impact on the Northeast is unusual.
"It's very hard to believe that it happened in the Northeast," said Finch, who also assisted in storm damage assessment during hurricanes Katrina and Rita. "Those of us that are stationed in the Gulf Coast areas are accustomed (to hurricanes), but it's a bit more unexpected when it happens on the Eastern Seaboard this far north."