Guard Responds 'Big and Fast' to Sandy Devastation


Army and Air National Guard units responded after Hurricane Sandy unleashed billions of dollars of damage, left millions without power, and killed a reported 12 people.

"We had to be ready to respond big and fast -- so the National Guard ramped up in multiple states this weekend preparing to support local, state and federal civilian authorities," said Army Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington. "We are part of a whole-of-government response to support state, local, and federal agencies tackling the effects of this storm."

This meant assembling and staging Guard troops across the eastern seaboard to be ready to go. Many were called on to support civil authorities and first-responders in evacuations and rescues.

Officials today said more than 7,500 Guardsmen were on duty by Monday night.

Some units are deploying from outside the storm-hit areas.  A C-130 from the Nevada National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing is slated to pick up a boat and several pararescue airmen from California’s 129th Rescue Wing on Monday and fly them east, the bureau said.

Others could come as needed.

"Additional Army Guard forces, from outside the immediate hurricane affected states, are prepared to meet gaps in essential functions, if requested," said Army Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram, Jr., director of the Army National Guard.

Guard officials say more than 85,000 Guardsmen can be made available to the storm-ravaged areas, along with nearly 140 rotary-winged aircraft for conducting search and rescue, reconnaissance and personnel or cargo-carrying missions. In addition, the Guard may deploy up to 75 Zodiac boats and more than 3,100 high-water vehicles, officials said.

With record-high waves easily breaching walls and barriers, many communities suffered critically damaged electrical systems and the possibility of contaminated water. Guard assets that can be made available to communities include generators and water purification units, officials said.

"I never could have imagined it," Seaside Heights Mayor Bill Akers told the Asbury Park Press. The coastal community’s popular Funtown Pier on the northern end of the boardwalk was washed away Monday night and all amusement rides are underwater, he said.

Hurricane Sandy reached well into the Midwest: Chicago officials warned residents to stay away from the Lake Michigan shore as the city prepares for winds of up to 60 mph and waves exceeding 24 feet well into Wednesday.

"This will be one for the record books," said John Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at Consolidated Edison, which had more than 670,000 customers without power in and around New York City.

An unprecedented 13-foot surge of seawater - 3 feet above the previous record - gushed into New York City, inundating tunnels, subway stations, and the electrical system that powers Wall Street, and sent hospital patients and tourists scrambling for safety. Skyscrapers swayed and creaked in winds that partially toppled a crane 74 stories above Midtown.

Remnants of the former Category 1 hurricane were forecast to head across Pennsylvania before taking another sharp turn into western New York by Wednesday morning. Although weakening as it goes, the massive storm - which caused wind warnings from Florida to Canada - will continue to bring heavy rain and local flooding, said Daniel Brown, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

As Hurricane Sandy closed in on the Northeast, it converged with a cold-weather system that turned it into a monstrous hybrid of rain and high wind - and even snow in West Virginia and other mountainous areas inland.

Just before it made landfall at 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, N.J., forecasters stripped Sandy of hurricane status - but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force wind, and forecasters were careful to say it was still dangerous to the tens of millions in its path.

While the hurricane's 90 mph winds registered as only a Category 1 (on a scale of five), it packed "astoundingly low" barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.

"We are looking at the highest storm surges ever recorded" in the Northeast, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director for Weather Underground, a private forecasting service.

-- Associated Press contributed to this report.

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