National Guard Begins Hurricane Ike Recovery Phase
By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Sep. 15, 2008 After two days of intense search-and-rescue missions, National Guard personnel in Texas and Louisiana are moving on to recovery operations today.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff discusses military coordination with Texas Air National Guard and Texas Coast Guard commanders. Hurricane Ike slammed Texas with more than 110 mph winds, creating a path of destruction from Galveston through Houston and points farther north. National Guard photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
More than 14,000 National Guard members remain on duty in both states to clean up the debris, set up distribution points for food, water and ice and provide medical support, shelter and security to evacuated areas. They also will continue damage assessments and help with the restoration of services.
“The most dangerous period of the storm is what occurs after the storm has moved on,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said during a Sept. 13 news conference. He warned residents of Texas and Louisiana about fallen trees and debris, downed power lines and other hazards.
“People should exercise extreme caution as they get out and about, so we don’t have injuries and loss of life going forward from this point on,” he said.
State officials still are urging displaced people not to return to their homes until local authorities announce the areas are safe.
More than 200 shelters have been opened in 11 cities throughout Texas and are prepared to take in displaced citizens. The shelters are in Beaumont, Port Arthur, Matagorda, Houston, Pasadena, San Antonio, Weslaco, Orange, Temple, Carthage and Lufkin.
“For those who are displaced, we hope to provide a level of comfort during their shelter stay, and for those cleaning up after the storm, we will help to get your community back on its feet,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada, spokeswoman for the Texas National Guard.
On Sept. 13, President Bush declared 29 counties in Texas as major disaster areas, which Chertoff said clears the way for federal funding for debris removal. Chertoff said this will help local and state authorities move forward with recovery operations.
Today in Louisiana, National Guard members have begun several recovery missions. They’re conducting roving patrols in the southwest parishes; providing food, water and ice at 17 distribution points and 38 food stamp distribution sites; and manning 26 shelters with more than 3,500 occupants.
In coordination with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Louisiana Guard also conducted aerial drops of hay for livestock. “We will drop hay into areas where livestock are inaccessible due to flooding,” said Army Capt. Taysha Deaton, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana National Guard.
Also, 28 Guard engineering teams are clearing roads in devastated parishes. “Our efforts to date total over 4,300 miles of cleared roadways, and the removal of over 19,000 cubic yards of debris,” Deaton said.
In Texas, the National Guard will establish 20 distribution points for water, food and ice. More than 100 sites are expected to be set up around the state.
“Very simple commodities like ice and clean water quickly become essentials during a natural disaster,” Moncada said. “When the power fails and the food runs out, our soldiers and airmen will be there to provide the basics and aid in the recovery efforts.”
Texas National Guard officials are planning for the possibility of long-term support of recovery operations in the state.
“Our force is one that adapts, focuses on the objective at hand but never loses sight of its priority: our neighbors in need,” Moncada said.
(Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke serves at the National Guard Bureau.)