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National Guard Units Join Hurricane Rescue Efforts in Texas

Texas National Guard soldiers arrive in Houston, Texas to aid citizens in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Zachary West, 100th MPAD)
Texas National Guard soldiers arrive in Houston, Texas to aid citizens in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Zachary West, 100th MPAD)

States sent National Guard air and ground assistance along with Fire Department rescue units to Texas Sunday and the Coast Guard joined rescue and disaster relief efforts in heavily-flooded Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Texas authorities said at least two people had died, but the National Weather Service said the death toll through Sunday morning may have reached five in the hurricane that reached shore as a Category 4 storm Friday and has now been downgraded to a tropical storm.

The Coast Guard reported rescuing about 32 people from commercial and private shipping in the Gulf of Mexico. In Houston, helicopters plucked flood victims from rooftops, and authorities used boats and high-ride vehicles to bring others to safety in the storm that was expected to linger over Texas through mid-week and drop record rainfall.

The Harris County, Texas, Flood Control District reported that from Saturday through Sunday morning more than 1,000 water rescues were conducted in the Houston area.

Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, praised the states that have pledged or offered National Guard assistance, including New York, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Florida.

"This is something where everybody is pitching in to help out," Abbott told CNN Sunday. He said that about 1,000 Texas personnel were mobilized for search and rescue, mostly along the coast, "and we're now adding search and rescue in the Houston area."

"We've made multiple requests and we're getting absolutely everything we need," Abbott said. "The White House is being very responsive."

In a series of early morning Tweets, President Donald Trump said "Wow -- Now experts are calling Harvey a once in 500-year flood! We have an all-out effort going, and going well!" He said later "Major rescue operations underway!"

In a statement, the White House said later that Trump had convened a video teleconference meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and Cabinet officials on the response to Harvey.

"President Trump continued to stress his expectation that all departments and agencies stay fully committed to supporting the Governors of Texas and Louisiana and his number one priority of saving lives," the statement said.

At Abbott's request, about 900 members of the Texas Army National Guard and Air National Guard were mobilized before the storm, and that number was expected to increase, the Pentagon said.

UH-60 Black Hawk and UH-72 Lakota helicopter air crews were in position and on standby in Austin and San Antonio to assist with emergency search and rescue, swift-water rescues and emergency evacuations, officials said.

In addition, multiple Texas Army National Guard ground transportation teams have been activated to support local and state agencies with any request for swift-water rescues, high-water ground transportation and personnel evacuation needs, the Pentagon said.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-New York, mobilized more than 100 National Guard personnel from the 106th Rescue Wing, based in Suffolk County on Long Island, including three helicopters, a C-130 aircraft, rescue teams, maintenance and support staff, and several watercraft.

"As Hurricane Harvey continues to devastate the Gulf Coast, I am deploying emergency personnel and equipment to help mitigate damage and aid in the recovery effort," Cuomo said in a statement Saturday. The New York personnel were deploying first to the Army post at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a Tweet Sunday that he was sending 120 police and fire department emergency technicians from New York Task Force-1 to provide medical and rescue assistance.

"After Superstorm Sandy, so many cities stepped up to help our people. We'll do all we can to help those affected by this storm," de Blasio said.

The Arizona Army National guard and the Phoenix, Arizona, Fire Department each announced Saturday that they had sent assistance to Texas.

The Arizona National Guard said it had sent four helicopters and crews. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said that the Phoenix Fire Department's Arizona Task Force 1 urban search and rescue team had been activated.

Coast Guard Capt. Tony Hahn, in charge of the area around Corpus Christi on the Texas Gulf Coast, said the Coast Guard had rescued about 32 people since the storm hit, mostly by MH-65 helicopters hoisting Harvey victims off ships in distress.

Hahn had this advice for residents of the area who had evacuated: "Please do not come back," until authorities announced it was safe.

At a news conference, Hahn noted that one of his major concerns was the petro-chemical facilities in the Corpus Christi area. "There's a potential for different types of chemical releases," he said. "There could be hazardous substances in the water."

FEMA Director Brock Long said the federal government will be involved in Texas' recovery for years to come. "This is a storm the U.S. has not seen yet," Long said. "We're setting up and gearing up for the next several years."

He told CNN that about 5,000 federal personnel were currently involved in Harvey recovery and rescue but they were hard-pressed in the continuing storm. He urged Texans to call 911 only "if you are in a dire situation."

Long also said it was not the time to dwell on the lack of appointments to leadership positions in the federal government under the Trump administration. FEMA, which has two deputy director posts open, has an experienced workforce to respond to Harvey, he said.

"I don't even have time to worry about it right now," Long said. "I have no concerns. We are doing a job."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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National Guard Emergencies