SANDSTON, Va. — The Virginia National Guard began alerting soldiers late Wednesday, to go on state active duty to provide assistance in the wake of severe weather that impacted the central and southeastern regions of Virginia, officials said Thursday.
At least four people are reported to have died in Virginia as a result of a powerful storm that swept through the southeastern U.S. over the past two days, bringing the total number of those killed by the storm system to seven.
More than 50 Virginia National Guard members are expected to be on duty by early Thursday, officials said.
Soldiers will be organized into debris reduction teams and equipped with chainsaws and Humvees to help local emergency response organizations clear fallen trees and other debris, officials said. The Guard will also have rotary wing aviation support on standby to provide aerial damage assessment if needed.
"We are working as quickly as possible to alert soldiers about state active duty so they can notify their employers they need to miss work staring on Thursday," Army Brig. Gen. Paul F. Griffin, director of the Virginia National Guard's joint staff, said Wednesday. "We will have forces in place by Thursday morning and ready to assist with the state's multi-agency cleanup effort."
Griffin said the Guard's initial plan will be provide support for Essex, Richmond, Westmoreland, Sussex and Patrick counties. Additional personnel and locations can be added if needed to provide assistance, he said.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency Wednesday in response to severe thunderstorms along with high winds and several reported tornadoes that impacted communities across the Commonwealth of Virginia. The declaration enabled public safety agencies including the Virginia National Guard, Virginia State Police, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Transportation to begin planning for appropriate resources needed for storm response and recovery.
The Virginia National Guard receives its missions through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to assist the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Department of Transportation and other state and local emergency response organizations and is not able to respond to direct support requests from the public, Griffin said.
"If you need assistance because of the severe weather, please call 911 or your local dispatcher and let them know you need help and do not contact the Virginia National Guard directly," he said. "They will determine what emergency services are best suited to assist you, and they will contact us if it appropriate for us to take action."