The Defense Department will provide whatever capabilities the people of Texas need to survive and recover from Hurricane Harvey, Air Force Maj. Gen. James C. Witham said here today.
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Guardsmen Support Hurricane Harvey Recovery Operations
The general, the director of domestic operations for the National Guard Bureau and deputy director of the Air National Guard, said the priority in the region in and around Houston remains saving life, limb and property.
He announced that the number of Texas National Guardsmen on state duty will rise from 3,000 today to 4,000 tomorrow. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has notified about 12,000 Texas Guardsmen that they may be called up for Harvey. The National Guard Bureau has identified “20,000 to 30,000 additional soldiers and airmen that could be used, if Texas asked for them,” Witham said.
“Life-saving and sustainment [capabilities], specifically search and rescue -- both ground and air rescue -- remain at the top of the list,” the general said.
Guardsmen are also supporting the effort to house refugees from the floodwaters and clearing routes so refugees can get out of flooded areas and needed supplies can get in.
“The governor of Texas has requested an [Army National Guard] military police battalion and Air National Guard security forces to assist local, state and federal law enforcement, specifically in the heavily flooded areas,” Witham said. “That big metropolitan area around Houston is where we think most of that assistance will be required.”
Unity of Command
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis approved Army Brig. Gen. Pat Hamilton as the dual-status commander in Texas. Hamilton will command active duty and National Guard troops involved in the mission, which will provide unity of military command as forces work in support of lead civilian agencies.
Texas has already used more than 500 vehicles, including 200 that can drive through two to three feet of water. There are about 200 so-called high-profile vehicles in the state and Texas officials can get additional high-profile vehicles from surrounding states if needed.
“There are currently 30 National Guard helicopters in the fight … supporting not only airborne search and rescue efforts with hoist capacity, but also supporting medevac capacity, where required,” the general said. “Twenty-four more have been requested by the state of Texas through the emergency assistance compacts [with other states], and will be en route to Texas today. And there's the potential that we could grow up to 100 helicopters, as required by the state of Texas, as we continue to respond to the historic flooding around the Houston area. These include both Air National Guard and Army National Guard rotary-wing assets.”
National Guardsmen have been involved in rescuing more than 3,500 people -- and the rescues are continuing even as the rain continues to fall.
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National Guard Official: Hurricane Harvey ‘A Great Strain’ on Region
“Most of those … have been by some type of boat, but these also include almost 300 hoist rescues, which, as you know, are very technically difficult, in terms of hoisting people off roofs where they're inaccessible by any other method,” Witham said.
Guardsmen have also rescued 300 pets. “It’s not only the humans associated with it … as we continue to alleviate the pain and suffering that the … citizens of Texas are experiencing right now,” he said.
Though Harvey has been downgraded to a tropical storm, it remains over the Gulf of Mexico and has gained some strength. Forecasters say if will come ashore again around the Texas/Louisiana border, and Louisiana is bracing for the storm. “There are currently 400 soldiers and airmen in state active duty in the state of Louisiana,” Witham said. “The state continues to pre-position equipment and materiel in advance of anticipated large flooding.”
The nature of Harvey has forced all officials at all levels to improvise. Typically, Whitham said, the first 72 to 96 hours of a storm are the lifesaving phase, which is followed by the recovery phase. Harvey stalled over Texas after making landfall three days ago and kept dumping rain on the state. Some areas have received almost 50 inches of rain and it is still raining. The lifesaving portion of the operation is continuing.
“So as you look at historic levels of rainfall … and then sustained flooding over a period of multiple days -- or potentially weeks -- as you talk response and recovery, our response is very sustained,” the general said.
Texas and the National Guard are planning for sustained operations. Witham said the Texas National Guard will need help, and while most of that help will come from neighboring states, some assets are coming from as far away as California and New York, which are sending HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and pararescuemen.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)