Tyndall Air Force Base "took a beating" when Hurricane Michael roared into Florida with little warning -- but a scramble to beat the clock before landfall may have saved the government billions of dollars.
The Panama City base sustained "severe" damage that "requires extensive cleanup and repairs," Col. Brian S. Laidlaw wrote in a letter posted to Facebook. But most of Tyndall's 50 high-tech F-22 fighter jets -- a fleet collectively worth about $7 billion -- were largely untouched by the devastating winds and rain, as the base's soldiers and airmen were able to evacuate roughly 50 advanced F-22 stealth jets ahead of Hurricane Michael making landfall.
However, at least three F-22s were damaged, as well as other training jets. Not all the jets were able to fly and some were left behind, officials told Fox News.
A majority of the base’s aircraft were moved to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and the Fort Worth Alliance Airport in Texas earlier in the week, officials said. Non-essential military personnel and civilians were also ordered to evacuate before the storm hit.
“The flight line is devastated. Every building has severe damage. Many buildings are a complete loss,” Tyndall AFB wrote on social media. “The hurricane completely destroyed the Tyndall marina. The structures and docks are gone.”
Laidlow said he won't ask the 3,600 airmen and other family members stationed at the base to return until their safety is guaranteed.
“I know that you are eager to return I ask you to be patient and try to focus on taking care of your families and each other. We can rebuild our base, but we can’t rebuild any of you,” Laidlow wrote in a Friday morning update.
Michael crashed into the Florida Panhandle area as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds earlier this week, devastating towns along the Gulf Coast and killing at least 17 people.
Gov. Rick Scott tweeted Friday that the Florida National Guard had been deployed to “the most impacted areas.”
Approximately 5,000 Department of Defense employees – half of whom are in the National Guard – are assisting with relief operations, according to the DOD. The National Guard has also made available about 1,800 high water vehicles, 100 helicopters and 90 boats, officials said.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson, Elizabeth Zwirz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.