ARLINGTON, Va. - Two Missouri Air National Guard C-130 Hercules transport aircraft with 47 crewmembers are en route to aid earthquake-ravaged Chile today.
The 139th Airlift Wing sent the two aircraft, crews and maintenance support personnel from Puerto Rico - where they had been supporting Southern Command - to Santiago, Chile, on Thursday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced in a press release.
The wing, which is scheduled to send additional aircraft and crews to Santiago in the coming weeks, has also supported earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, flying personnel and supplies to Port au Prince, Missouri Guard officials said.
"The men and women of the Missouri Air Guard are uniquely qualified to provide emergency response, relief and recovery services, both at home and abroad," Nixon said. "I am especially proud of the skill and professionalism of our Air Guard units, and I know they will provide invaluable service to the people of Chile during this time of need."
C-130 aircraft can fly human and airlift cargo long distances in all weather conditions day and night from low to high altitudes and land in inaccessible areas.
"The 139th Airlift Wing is again at the tip of the spear in supporting humanitarian relief efforts," said Air Force Col. Michael McEnulty, the wing commander. "We are always leaning forward to come to the aid of those who have been affected by disasters, whether at home or abroad."
Missouri is one state that is acutely aware of the need for earthquake preparedness. It sits on the New Madrid fault, named for the Missouri town hit in 1811 and 1812 by some of the strongest earthquakes in North American history.
The Missouri National Guard routinely trains for earthquake response and hosts national earthquake planning workshops. At the most recent, in September, more than 200 Guard officials and representatives of civilian agencies from eight states discussed emergency response to a catastrophic earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone.
The National Guard is uniquely qualified to respond, a Missouri University of Science and Technology geological engineer told the workshop.
"That's because the National Guard has combat engineering familiarity and background and in a combat situation you don't control the cards you are dealt," David Rogers said. "The response in an emergency situation has to be fluid and capable of changing. There is no manual for disaster response."
The National Guard has a history of responding to earthquakes that goes back at least 100 years. And the Guard has decades of experience supporting disaster relief operations in Central and South America.
In 1906, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit San Francisco, California National Guardmembers didn't even bother waiting for orders - they just started showing up at their armories ready to assist, which the Guard did in support of civilian agencies throughout the aftermath.
"The work done and still being done by the National Guard ... will be long and gratefully remembered," a newspaper editorial stated. "Our present National Guard is descended in direct official line from those citizen soldiers that stood, yielding not, at Saratoga, Ticonderoga, Stony Point and Yorktown, and have proved themselves worthy of their ancestors."
Earthquakes are notoriously unpredictable. Scientists debate whether even trying to predict them is a worthwhile exercise, and the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center flatly states that they cannot be predicted, while also noting that there is a 100 percent chance that one will strike somewhere on the planet today.
In 1990, a New Mexico climatological consultant predicted devastation coming to New Madrid, Mo., on Dec. 3 that year. The prediction was enough to spark state planning, but the day came and went without incident.
As scientists try to predict where the next big earthquake is likely to strike in the United States, the National Guard stands ready to respond, Guard officials said.
"The National Guard has the trained personnel, the equipment and the command and control capabilities in order to execute this mission to help provide food, water, electricity - anything the citizens would be in need of during a major disaster such as an earthquake," said Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Danner, the adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard.