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Government Response Overwhelmed by Texas Flooding: FEMA Chief

  • Texas National Guardsmen aid citizens in heavily flooded areas of Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Lt. Zachary West/Army
    Texas National Guardsmen aid citizens in heavily flooded areas of Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Lt. Zachary West/Army
  • Texas National Guardsmen aid citizens in heavily flooded areas of Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Lt. Zachary West/Army
    Texas National Guardsmen aid citizens in heavily flooded areas of Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Lt. Zachary West/Army
  • Texas National Guardsmen aid citizens in heavily flooded areas of Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Lt. Zachary West/Army
    Texas National Guardsmen aid citizens in heavily flooded areas of Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Lt. Zachary West/Army

The head of FEMA said Monday the hurricane and related flooding in Texas have overwhelmed the government's response and called on citizen volunteers to join rescue and relief efforts.

"We need citizens to be involved," Federal Emergency Management Administrator Brock Long said at an early morning news conference before leaving for Texas to coordinate the response.

"People need help," Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said. "We're deeply concerned with those in Houston."

Long said all of "the firepower of the federal government" has been trained on the response to Hurricane Harvey and the heavy rainfall in its aftermath, but "we need the whole community" to bolster government efforts. "This is a life-saving, life-sustaining mission."

He urged those who can volunteer to go to the website www.nvoad.org.

Well before Long's plea, local residents were already responding with small boats and searching neighborhoods for those needing assistance in the absence of official aid.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said about 900 Army and Air National Guardsmen had been mobilized before the storm hit the Texas Gulf Coast on Friday. On Sunday, he said that number had increased to 3,000.

National Guard units from other states, including New York, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma, along with local police and fire rescue personnel, are also being sent to Texas.

"We're pushing more boats on the water," Coast Guard Vice Adm. Charles Schultz said Sunday at a news conference with Abbott.

"We are in for a real significant water event here" as the rains continue, he said. Rainfall after the hurricane has been measured in feet in some areas.

Coast Guard assets from around the country are being mobilized for the response, Schultz said.

At the news conference with Long early Monday, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said, "We've thrown every asset available" at the response, but "there are conditions where it's not just safe to fly" as the storms continue.

"Upon request, we'll bring in more," he added.

Zukunft said one concern is the drones citizens are flying to do their own reconnaissance of areas, but "we're flying at very low altitudes" to rescue those who are stranded.

"This is a very congested airspace. We want to save lives," he said in urging residents to keep their drones grounded.

The White House said Sunday that President Donald Trump is expected to go to Texas on Tuesday to hear from Abbott on the response to the storms.

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

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Emergencies National Guard