US Families Ordered Out of Guantanamo as Hurricane Matthew Approaches

The entrance to Camp America at U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ben Fox)
The entrance to Camp America at U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ben Fox)

The commander of the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay Saturday ordered the evacuation of families and other nonessential personnel from the outpost in southeast Cuba because of Hurricane Matthew's approach.

It was not immediately known how many people would be flown off the base, or where they would go. But military sources with knowledge of planning for the operation said U.S. military cargo aircraft would fetch them and likely deliver them to either the U.S. Navy base at Pensacola or the one in Jacksonville.

"A mandatory evacuation has been called for all nonessential personnel," Guantanamo base spokeswoman Julie Ripley said in a statement. "The location will be announced once details are finalized. This includes dependents, school-aged children, special needs families, and their pets."

In addition, she said, Coast Guard personnel on the outpost were being sent to Miami and the Navy's small C-12 aircraft were being flown from the base to shelter in Jacksonville.

The base that may be best known for its war on terrorism prison -- now holding 61 detainees, staffed by about 2,000 temporary troops and contractors -- also has sailors, families and contractors living there as more permanent residents. About 6,000 people live there in different circumstances, including about 250 kindergarten through high school students with their Navy families and 2,000 Jamaican and Filipino contract laborers.

Hurricane forecasts show Matthew arriving Tuesday morning.

At the detention center, Navy spokesman Capt. John Filostrat said, without providing details, that preparations were underway for the storm. He did not reply to a question on what category of hurricane the buildings currently housing the detainees and command staff could withstand.

The base last took a significant hit from a storm during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 when the storm tore up the war court compound called Camp Justice, ripped boats from their berths and washed away the docks used by the ferries that connect Leeward and Windward sides of he base across Guantanamo Bay.

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(c)2016 Miami Herald

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