National Guard Responds to Hurricane Katrina
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2005 Thousands of National Guard troops from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were on duty today as Hurricane Katrina hammered New Orleans, Gulfport, Miss., and other points on the Gulf Coast with 145-mph winds and torrential rains.
The Louisiana National Guard had called almost 3,500 of its members to state active duty as of 7 a.m. today to assist in missions ranging from assisting law enforcement agencies with traffic control and security; transporting and distributing food, water and ice, conducting searches and rescues; providing generator support; and carrying out other missions to protect life and property.
On Aug. 28, Louisiana Guardsmen conducted security and screening at the emergency shelter set-up at the New Orleans Superdome, where a reported 9,000 to 10,000 local residents reported after heeding the city's mandatory evacuation order issued earlier in the day.
As Katrina threatened to flood the low-lying city with water from the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain, other Louisiana Guardsmen were setting up other shelters, helping state police with evacuations and preparing to support relief operations in the hurricane's aftermath.
Army Lt. Col. Pete Schneider reported a successful evacuation from the city, crediting the Louisiana Guard's partners in neighboring states for carrying out "a coordinated effort" that incorporated lessons learned from past evacuations.
Schneider said during an interview today with Fox News the state stood ready to house evacuees at the Superdome "for as long as it takes," reporting that although the massive structure's protective lining tore in the hurricane's Category 4 winds, the roof itself appears to be intact.
The Florida National Guard, just wrapping up its own emergency response to Katrina when it crossed the South Florida peninsula Aug. 25, was preparing to ship 1,000 cots to Louisiana to augment those provided by the Louisiana Guard.
In Mississippi, nearly 900 Army and Air Guard members were on active duty, with as many as 600 more expected to join them by the day's end, to support what Army Lt. Col. Tim Powell called the worst storm to hit the state in more than 30 years.
Powell said the guardsmen will help conduct the "huge mission" of removing debris from roadways, distributing water and ice until power is restored and doing "whatever we can to help the citizens of Mississippi."
Engineer teams assigned to three emergency operations center on the Gulf Coast were also expected to provide search-and-rescue support and assist with evacuations in flooded areas, he said.
The Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Arkansas National Guards were working together to provide four UH-60 Black Hawk and three CH-47 Chinook helicopters requested by Mississippi.
An estimated 160 Alabama National Guardsmen were on duty in the southern part of the state, where they pre-positioned generators and trucks and helped with sandbagging and other disaster response operations, officials there reported.
The National Guard activated its Emergency Operations Center in Mobile, with support from the 711th Signal Battalion and the 226th Area Support Group. Officials said Army and Air National Guardsmen were also monitoring the hurricane and emergency response operations from the Guard's Joint Operations Center in Montgomery.
Although not on active duty at this time, Alabama has about 9,000 more guardsmen available to respond to disaster relief operations in Alabama as well as neighboring states, as required, officials said.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas National Guard was preparing to open an armory in Monticello with 100 cots and blankets for people seeking shelter from Hurricane Katrina, officials reported. The Guard sent another 100 cots and blankets to Lake Village to be set up in a local high school.
Although the Arkansas National Guard was not on an official alert status this morning, officials said more than 9,000 soldiers and airmen were standing ready and available should the need arise.
At Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., the Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron was busy tracking Katrina for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Crews were launching aircraft at regular intervals for missions that typically last eight to 12 hours, during which they collect a full range of weather measurements.
On another level of assistance, the Coast Guard closed ports and waterways along the Gulf Coast Aug. 28 and evacuated its own people and resources out of harm's way in anticipation of Katrina's landfall today.
Coast Guard aircraft, small boats, patrol boats and cutters were positioned in around the region, prepared to conduct immediate post-hurricane search, rescue and humanitarian aid operations, waterway impact assessments and waterway reconstitution operations, officials reported.
In addition, the Coast Guard has a Web site providing regular updates about the hurricane and response efforts.