A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules plane from Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii has evacuated four federal personnel off the remote Johnston Atoll, which stands in the path of Hurricane Walaka.
The Monday operation spirited away four Fish and Wildlife employees, a field biology crew that’s encamped yearlong at the National Wildlife Refuge, according to a written update emailed to Navy Times on Tuesday.
Closed to the public, Johnston Atoll is about 850 miles southwest of the Coast Guard air station.
According to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center at Pearl Harbor, Walaka is a very dangerous Category 4 tropical cyclone that’s moving rapidly north toward the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, with Johnston Atoll caught in the southern portion of the storm.
Packing sustained winds clocked at 140 miles per hour, Walaka was about 785 miles west-by-southwest of Honolulu on Wednesday morning but the hurricane isn’t expected to veer into the Hawaiian islands.
Created by an underwater volcano, Johnston Atoll is propped upon a coral reef and nestled around a shallow lagoon.
Two of the islands — Sand and Johnston, also known as Kalama in the Hawaiian language — were formed naturally but the North and East islets, also called Akau and Hikina, were created by dredging the seafloor.
It’s been a national bird refuge since 1926 but the military exerted control over the atoll for decades after 1934. During the Cold War, it became a staging point for nuclear storage and a storage facility holding the defoliant Agent Orange and other chemicals.
In 2004, however, the federal government shuttered the facilities and moved out all permanent personnel.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.