Texas Activates Entire State National Guard for Harvey Aftermath

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

All 12,000 members of the Texas Army and Air National Guard were mobilized Monday and active duty units were on standby to deal with the catastrophic flooding and continuing hard rain triggered by Hurricane Harvey.

"It is imperative that we do everything possible to protect the lives and safety of people across the state of Texas as we continue to face the aftermath of this storm," Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, said in quadrupling the number of Guard personnel activated.

About 900 Texas Guard members were mobilized before Harvey hit the Gulf Coast Friday and Abbott increased the number to 3,000 on Sunday.

On Monday, the Pentagon said that active duty units were heading to staging areas in anticipation of a formal request for help while National Guard units from other states readied cargo jets and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to help with the response.

An active duty search and rescue team already was deploying to Fort Worth, Texas, to join first responders, said Army Col. Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman.

U.S. Northern Command also was poised to provide Department of Defense support to the Federal Emergency Management Administration, and state and local response efforts, Manning said.

Texas authorities said Monday afternoon that at least eight people appear to have died as a result of the storm battering the state.

That toll includes six people in Harris County, home to Houston; one person in Rockport, near where Harvey made landfall; and another person in La Marque, near Galveston, the officials said.

About 30,000 persons whose homes have been flooded were expected to seek shelter in Texas, and another 450,000 were expected to apply for disaster relief, officials said.

Abbott's activation of the entire Texas Guard followed warnings from federal officials that government resources could be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis.

At an earlier news conference in Washington, the head of FEMA called on citizen volunteers to join rescue and relief efforts.

"We need citizens to be involved," Federal Emergency Management Administrator Brock Long said before leaving for Texas to coordinate the response. "People need help," said Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke. "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 measured in feet in its aftermath, but "we need citizens to be involved. This is a life-saving, life-sustaining mission." He urged those who can volunteer to go to the website www.nvoad.org

At an Oval Office meeting and a later news conference with Finland's President Sauli Niinistö, Trump said that he and First Lady Melania Trump would be going to Texas on Tuesday to show support for the relief efforts.

Earlier, Trump declared an emergency in Louisiana, clearing the way for federal assistance in the state. Heavy downpours spun off by Harvey, which has been downgraded from a Category 4 hurricane to a tropical storm, were expected to hit western Louisiana in the coming days. Trump said he was likely to go to Louisiana this weekend.

Trump echoed FEMA and National Weather Service officials in stressing the unprecedented nature of the disaster in Texas.

"There's probably never been anything like this," Trump said. "Now, it's looking more and more like the state of Louisiana will also be affected."

He said that more than 8,500 federal workers were now involved in disaster relief in Texas.

"Recovery will be a long and difficult road, and the federal government remains ready, willing and able to support that effort," he said.

Earlier, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, whose district covers Houston, called on Trump to support a supplemental funding bill for Texas when Congress returns from recess next week.

Trump did not immediately commit to a supplemental bill but said more federal aid would be forthcoming. He said the message to the people of Texas and Louisiana was that "we are one family. We are making sure you are receiving full support and cooperation from the federal government. Nothing can defeat the unbreakable spirit of the people of Texas and Louisiana," he said.

Trump hailed the efforts of first responders and the citizen volunteers who have churned through the flooding to provide assistance. "Tragic times bring out the best in people," Trump said. "We see neighbor helping neighbor" and "stranger helping stranger," he said. "We will get through this and we will come out stronger."

The hard rain and flooding were expected to continue through much of the week, said National Weather Service Director Louis W. Uccellini. "We are seeing catastrophic flooding, and this will likely expand and it will likely persist as it's slow to recede," Uccellini said at an earlier news conference in Washington with FEMA Administrator Long and other officials.

"We have not seen an event like this," Long said "You could not draw this forecast up. You could not dream this forecast up."

In Houston, the fire department responded to more 4,000 water-related calls for service. Police rescued 2,000 people in the city, and another 185 critical rescue requests were still pending, Art Acevedo, the Houston police chief, said at a news briefing Monday.

"The goal is rescue," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at the briefing. "That's the major focus for the day."

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 said that one of his concerns was the drones citizens are flying to do their own reconnaissance of areas. "We're flying at very low altitudes" to rescue those who are stranded.

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

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a warning to unauthorized drone operators that they may be subject to significant fines if they interfere with emergency response operations.

Flying a drone without authorization in or near the disaster area may violate federal, state, or local laws and ordinances, even if a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is not in place. The FAA urged drone operators to "allow first responders to save lives and property without interference."

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