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Area earthquake readiness plan incorporates aircraft

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

If a 7.7 magnitude earthquake strikes and the river's bridges go out, how will the Purchase region get needed supplies and transportation?

The best answer is Barkley Regional Airport. 

That's why the airport was the scene of an exercise Wednesday morning, when area emergency management officials gathered to see demonstrations of how a C-130 Hercules navigator, UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter and a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172 would be used in the case of an emergency.

The C-130 Hercules was the first to arrive at the runway outside the Armed Forces Reserve Center.

The 123rd Airlift Wing out of Louisville flew from Louisville to Fort Campbell before reaching McCracken County. Each stop was a part of the weeklong event taking place this week in several states for earthquake recovery preparedness.

The Hercules could be used to transport both supplies and people.

In the case of an emergency evacuation of local hospitals, Lt. Col. Ash Groves said, it could carry up to 72 stretchers.

McCracken County Attorney Mike Murphy vouched for the aircraft's reliability. Murphy toured the plane Wednesday, which was the first time he's been on a C-130 navigator since he was in the Air Force between 1972-76 when he logged 1,500 hours on a C-130.

"They're very reliable, dependable and sturdy," he said. "It can land in primitive conditions."

A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter also flew from Fort Campbell by way of Louisville. It can normally seat 12 people, but in an emergency, it could fit 15-20 people, and can also carry up to 9,000 pounds of cargo by slinging cargo underneath. It's also useful in the case of an emergency as it has night vision capabilities for search and seizure-type rescues.

Jerome Mansfield, director of McCracken County Emergency Management, said the exercise was conducted under the scenario of a 7.7 magnitude earthquake of the New Madrid Fault and a 7.1 magnitude of the Wabash Valley Fault.

"This gives us the scenario of the Purchase area," he said. "The bridges would be out, and supplies would be brought in by FEMA from Fort Campbell."

He said Barkley Regional would be vital to area counties as its runway is suitable for aircraft such as the Hercules and its location is central in the region.

Contact Lauren Duncan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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