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Guard Answers Calls in Weather-Battered States

By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2008 – National Guard members in four states were called out by their governors to assist civil authorities today after tornadoes crossed the southwestern United States on May 10 and flooding on the Delaware coast left communities in need of emergency assistance.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Arkansas Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Lucas Jennings discusses tornado response missions May 12, 2008, with other citizen-soldiers and local law enforcement representatives in a central Arkansas area affected by a May 10 tornado. Arkansas National Guard photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Since May 7, the National Weather Service has confirmed at least 42 tornadoes in the southern plains and the southeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the nation, with the strongest tornado recorded May 10 as an F-4. It developed from a super-cell storm that tracked through three states.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported that Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Carolina were affected by severe weather during the weekend, with at least 22 confirmed deaths, many homes destroyed and thousands of people without power. The Guard also is responding to flooded areas in Delaware after heavy rains on Mother’s Day.

In Oklahoma, Gov. Brad Henry called out the National Guard to assist emergency responders after five confirmed tornadoes touched down in the state. At least 25 Army Guard members are providing security support in the town of Picher after an F-4 tornado churned up a 63-mile swath of damage from Oklahoma to Missouri.

Soldiers reportedly are assisting local law enforcement in securing the area, which includes routes in and out of the town four miles south of the state's border with Kansas. An Army Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew is flying aerial assessment missions for the governor.

In Arkansas, where at least two tornadoes touched down and tracked through the central part of the state the evening of May 10, homes were destroyed in the town of Stuttgart.

"We've deployed 50 Guardsmen from the Guard's 875th Engineer Battalion," said Air Force Maj. Keith Moore, a National Guard spokesman. Moore said the soldiers traveled from their station in Jonesboro and are providing security support at traffic control points and conducting patrols to prevent looting.

The soldiers are working two shifts during an around-the-clock operation and are expected to be on station through May 14. The Army Guard is flying Gov. Michael Beebe and emergency management agency personnel on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter out of Camp Robinson to assess damaged areas.

"This is one of the key roles of the Guard, being a dual-mission force, that we are here to support our local communities [and] respond to the governor," Moore said.

After severe storms and tornadoes swept through southwestern Missouri, nearly 20 Army Guard soldiers deployed on state active duty to support Gov. Matt Blunt in his emergency response efforts for the towns of Newtonia and Grany. The soldiers are assisting local law enforcement agencies with security. Eight soldiers and two military vehicles deployed to each town.

In Delaware, tidal flooding and heavy rains led to Guard members deploying in six light medium tactical vehicles and one 2.5-ton truck to assist in flood evacuations at South Bowers Beach, Kitts Hummock Beach, Woodland Beach and Slaughter Beach.

"The LMTVs can carry up to 15 people and have a high ground clearance, which allows them operate in up to 4 feet of water," said Army Lt. Col. Len Gratteri, Delaware National Guard spokesman. Gratteri said the state's Guard members are deployed from the 262nd Maintenance Company, the 261st Signal Brigade and the 72nd Troop Command.

The Delaware Guard is coordinating emergency assistance through the state's emergency management agency with its Joint Operations and Emergency Operations Centers. A shelter area is also set up in Kent County.

(Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith serves with the National Guard Bureau. Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill of the National Guard Bureau contributed to this report.)

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