Texas National Guard Ready for Hurricane Dean Strike
By Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2007 About 4,700 National Guard soldiers and airmen, most from Texas, were making final preparations today for a rapid response should Hurricane Dean strike the Texas coast later this week.
Another 5,000 Texas soldiers and airmen are poised for activation should Texas Gov. Rick Perry deem it necessary.
As of 11 a.m. Eastern Time today, Hurricane Dean was about 385 miles east of Belize City over the Caribbean and was moving west at about 21 mph with maximum sustained winds near 150 mph.
The National Weather Service, which described Dean as “extremely dangerous,” said a hurricane warning is in effect for the coast of Belize and the east coast of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, and “preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”
After it crosses the Yucatan Peninsula and the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, Dean is expected to make its final landfall somewhere along the mainland Mexican coast Aug. 22. Even if Dean stays south of the border, Texas National Guard officials remain wary about the possibility of flooding in the region. Hurricane Erin swept across Texas on Aug. 16.
“We are still very concerned, even if the hurricane doesn’t wobble north into Texas,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada, a Texas National Guard spokeswoman. “We are pressing on with our preparations and are still expecting the hurricane to have a major impact on Texas with flooding, especially in the Brownsville area, which is right on the border.”
Moncada said no locations in Texas have mandatory evacuation orders, but that voluntary evacuations in Brownsville and Galveston have begun. More than 300 Texas Guard members went through bus-driver training over the weekend. Some 1,100 buses are available statewide to assist with transportation and evacuation.
Many of the cities that are likely to be affected by Hurricane Dean, including Brownsville, Weslaco and Alice, have received hurricane response ground force packages from the National Guard. Each ground force package is a platoon-size element complete with 10 trucks including a 2.5-ton, a 5-ton, a fuel truck and a wrecker, said Texas Army Guard Officer Candidate Adam Musil.
Moncada said aircraft from 17 different states are already on the ground. More than 10 personnel are assigned to each aircraft. Musil said 47 helicopters, including CH-47 Chinooks, UH-60 Black Hawks and OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopters, will be available tomorrow in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas if aviation assets are required.
C-130 cargo airplane transports from the Texas Air National Guard and other states are on call to perform air evacuations.
Perry issued a disaster proclamation Aug. 17 and, at his request, President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration for Texas that allows supplemental federal emergency assistance to support staging resources and personnel necessary to protect lives, property, public health and safety in anticipation of the hurricane.
Examples of federal assistance that has already been provided include Air Force evacuation aircraft and health professionals augmenting resources already positioned in Texas. Specialized emergency medical personnel also are in the final phases of preparation to receive special-need and non-ambulatory patients and transport them to hospitals outside the storm’s potential impact area.
Five satellite communications teams are in place, and 15 are inbound to reestablish communications if needed. These teams would provide full-spectrum communications capabilities among all emergency responders.
“If Texas is spared by the hurricane, then we will be very thankful,” Moncada said. “If not, then we are ready to respond.”
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)