Tyndall Air Force Base suffered catastrophic damage when Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida Panhandle, ripping roofs off airplane hangars, tossing vehicles around a parking lot and leaving a fighter jet that had been on display flipped over on the ground.

The home to the nation’s 325th Fighter Wing “took a beating,” Col. Brian Laidlaw said in a letter posted Thursday night to the 3,600 men and women stationed at the base located 12 miles (19 kilometers) east of Panama City. The Air Force evacuated the base in advance of the storm’s arrival Wednesday afternoon.

“I will not recall you and your families until we can guarantee your safety. At this time I can’t tell you how long that will take, but I’m on it,” Laidlaw wrote. “We need to restore basic utilities, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and assess the structural integrity of our buildings. 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.”

The evacuations were ordered Monday and everyone except the “ride-out” team left the base by Tuesday afternoon. Michael was

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