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Louisiana Guardsmen Answer the Call as Hurricane Ike Slams the Coast

By Army Maj. David W. May
Special to American Forces Press Service

LAKE CHARLES, La., Sept. 13, 2008 – As Hurricane Ike slammed ashore today, the National Guard was already at work evacuating stranded citizens from their homes and other locations across Southwest Louisiana.

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Army 1st Sgt. Gary Burchfield uses his humvee to help residents clear a tree knocked down into a road by Hurricane Ike in Lake Charles, La., Sept. 13, 2008. Burchfield is assigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, Louisiana National Guard. Hurricane Ike’s winds uprooted trees and caused flooding in the Lake Charles area. U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Nathaniel P. Orphey

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By noon today, members of the Louisiana National Guard’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, working in conjunction with local and state authorities, rescued 19 people, including three children, as well as four family pets, and responded to numerous calls for assistance from both civilians and other rescue agencies.

The day began hours before daylight, as National Guard members prepared their rescue equipment and vehicles and themselves mentally for whatever the day might bring.

Around 7 a.m., a line of high-water vehicles and humvees loaded with troops rolled out of their armories to begin the process of locating those in need and getting them to safety.

Almost as soon as they rolled out, soldiers reported flooding and street blockages throughout the area – in lower Vermillion Parish, water rose fast and threatened two of the towns including Erath High School; water at Pen Street Park rising nearly six inches an hour; an apartment complex had water coming in on the first floor; power outages occurred in multiple locations; communications went down, and the reports continued.

Just before 8 a.m., a paraplegic trapped in his home called for rescue. By the time soldiers arrived, police had removed the man, but another family of six called needing evacuation and the Guardsmen obliged, transporting them to Chennault Air Park in Lake Charles, La. Another rescue occurred soon after in Westlake, La.

Soldiers were also asked to assist the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries with a rescue request of 17 people.

By 10 a.m., the Guard received several more requests including one with residents trapped in their subdivision and an elderly couple stuck in their home. In the meantime, waters continued to rise and winds showed no signs of abating.

Throughout the effort, estimates cited sustained winds of 40 mph and gusts up to 60 mph, which only served to complicate efforts.

By midday, the Guard received various other requests for assistance and responded to a group of people stranded in a casino parking lot and others who had to be rescued by boat.

Even as the requests continue to pour in, the 256th has no plans of slowing effort or of curbing operations. They will stay on mission as long as they are needed, according to officials.

“We’re proud of the work our troops are doing out there,” said Lt. Col. James Waskom, deputy commander of the 256th. “But we’ve got to keep our head in the game because there is lots of work still out there to do.”

(Army Maj. David W. May  is assigned to Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Halbert J. Hardy Jr. helps residents of the Lake Charles, La., area come down from a military vehicle after the storm surge from Hurricane Ike flooded parts of the area, requiring National Guard troops to rescue them from their homes. Hardy is assigned to the Louisiana National Guard's Company D, 3rd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment. U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Nathaniel P. Orphey  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLouisiana Guardsmen attempt to rescue passengers in a stalled vehicle in the three foot flood waters in Lake Charles, La. Hurricane Ike’s storm surge caused major flooding all around the Lake Charles area. U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Nathaniel P. Orphey  
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