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National Guard Response to Harvey Could Rise Tenfold, If Needed


A member to the Texas Army National Guard carries Daniel Lopez to dry ground as people evacuate a neighborhood that was inundated after water was released from nearby Addicks Reservoir, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston, Texas.

A Pentagon official says the military's contribution to severe weather rescue efforts in the southern states of Texas and Louisiana could rise tenfold or more in the coming days.

Air Force Major General James Witham, who directs domestic operations for the National Guard, told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon that there are approximately 3,500 National Guard troops involved in the rescue efforts for Harvey, the Category 4 Hurricane turned Tropical Storm, in southeast Texas, with about 1,000 more Texas National Guardsmen set to join them within the next day.

Witham added that number could surge. An additional 20,000 to 30,000 National Guardsmen from other states are preparing to move into the area to help, if needed, along with an additional 8,000 Texas National Guardsmen who can be deployed.

The United States Northern Command also has readied more than 1,000 active-duty personnel in support of relief efforts.

The military response so far has been somewhat limited by a combination of ongoing storms and the ensuing flooding that has created impassable roadways.

Texas National Guard soldiers aid residents in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27, 2017
Texas National Guard soldiers aid residents in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27, 2017

As dozens of helicopters carry out search-and-rescue efforts, Witham asked citizens to keep drones out of the crowded skies.

“The potential for drone impact is a big deal,” Witham said. “They present a hazard for our crews operating those helicopters in the region.”

Witham said the National Guard has helped rescue more than 3,500 people, most by boat and others by air hoisting. The military also has saved nearly 300 pets.

Due to the high volume of 911 calls, some in the National Guard are helping to answer the rescue phone lines to make sure people can get through.

“This will be a long-term effort,” Witham said, adding that the flooding from the storm's historic rainfall could lead to a sustained demand on the Defense Department “for periods of days, if not weeks," before entering the recovery phase.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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