More than 30,000 National Guard and active duty troops were on standby Tuesday to assist overwhelmed Texas authorities in coping with the "historic" national disaster caused by Hurricane Harvey and the torrential rains and flooding that came in its wake.
At least 10 persons are believed to have died in Harvey's aftermath, and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced Tuesday the first death of an officer assigned to disaster relief. Acevedo said Officer Steve Perez, a 34-year veteran, drowned in a flooded-out underpass as he tried to reach his duty station.
Acevedo said Perez' wife told him that she pleaded with her husband not to go, but he told her
"We've got work to do" in rescuing thousands of city residents stranded by the floods and getting them to shelter.
Harvey, now downgraded from a Category 4 Hurricane to a tropical storm with sustained winds of 45 mph, was meandering off the Gulf Coast and was expected to take aim at southwest Louisiana as it came back ashore on a path to the vicinity of Shreveport, Louisiana, according to the National Weather Service.
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On Monday, President Donald Trump issued a federal emergency declaration for five parishes in southwest Louisiana: Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Vermillion.
The Weather Service warned of another storm surge along the coast, with "a possibility of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland."
Hard rains were still falling and rivers were still rising across wide swaths of Texas, and a broken levee and controlled releases from overflowing dams added to the flooding that has made escape routes impassable.
Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, called Harvey and its aftermath "one of the largest disasters America has ever faced."
Abbott was on hand under clear skies in Corpus Christi, Texas, on the Gulf Coast Tuesday morning to meet President Donald Trump, who arrived on Air Force One with First Lady Melania Trump to survey the damage and show support for first responders.
At the Annaville Fire Department, Trump heard reports from Coast Guard officers and Federal Emergency Management Administrator Brock Long. "All eyes are on Houston, and so are mine," Long said. "We've got a long time to go. We're still in a life-saving, life-sustaining mission."
Trump said the storms and flooding were "of epic proportion. No one has ever seen anything like this." He told Abbott: "You have been terrific and you have been effective."
Trump, wearing a windbreaker and a white "USA" ballcap, later stopped to address a crowd of several hundred supporters who had gathered nearby chanting "U.S.A! U.S.A.!" He said "This is epic, but you know what, this is Texas and Texas can handle anything."
"I love you, you are special. We're here to take care of you. It's going well," Trump said. "What a crowd, what a turnout," he said. "We are going to get you back and operating immediately."
Trump later went to Austin for more briefings on the response and the recovery efforts once the skies clear. He also made a reference to the long-term costs. "There's probably never been anything so expensive in our country's history," he said.
Trump arrived in Texas on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and led to widespread criticism of then-President George W. Bush over the federal response. For Katrina, 50,000 National Guard and 20,000 active-duty forces were mobilized.
Abbott called up about 900 from the Texas Army and Air National Guard before Harvey hit on Friday, and on Sunday he said about 3,000 had been mobilized. On Monday, Abbott said that all 12,000 in the Texas National Guard had been activated.
At the Pentagon Tuesday, Maj. Gen. James Witham, the National Guard Bureau's Director of Domestic Operations, said there were actually 19,000 members of the Texas Guard, but 12,000 were currently available. He said the rest were either activated or other duties, were in training, or were unavailable.
Witham said that on Tuesday about 3,000 members of the Texas Guard were actively involved in rescue and recovery and he expected that number to grow to 4,000.
The Texas Guard had 200 high-ride vehicles in operation, with another 200 in reserve, Witham said. About 30 Texas Guard helicopters were active, and 24 more have been requested, Witham said. "We could grow up to 100 helicopters" before the storms subside, he said.
The Texas Guard alone thus far has rescued about 3,500 people stranded by the storms and flooding, including about 300 by helicopter hoist, Witham said.
The U.S. Coast Guard, which operates under Department of Homeland Security, had at least 20 helicopters operating Tuesday in the Houston area and reported that air and ground teams had rescued more than 1,450 people.
The National Guard was preparing to deploy 20,000-30,000 more troops to Texas in anticipation that Abbott makes a formal request for them, Witham said.
"I would like to emphasize that our response to this hurricane has been different to anything we've experienced before and we expect it to be much longer in terms of the response phase in terms of what we could normally see with a hurricane," Witham said.
In addition to the Guard troops, active-duty air, ground and naval assets were on standby to respond in Texas but were also awaiting Abbott's request, Witham said at a Pentagon briefing. "It depends on the governor and the state to ask for assistance," he said. "Texas just hasn't asked for them yet" but "we are leaning as far forward as we possibly can."
When asked if Abbott had been too slow to ask for additional Guard and active-duty help, Witham said "Well, that's debatable."
"In many cases, the request for assistance not only for the National Guard but federal forces may not have been anticipated quick enough but we are providing everything we can as quickly as the state asks for it," he said.
However, Witham said, "There are federal forces involved in the response now," possibly under the dual-status command for Guard and Reserve, and active-duty that can be designated by Defense Secretary James Mattis with a governor's permission.
Witham said that Abbott on Sunday signed a memo agreeing to have a dual status commander take charge of the Guard and active duty response. Mattis immediately named Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton of the Texas Army National Guard to be the dual-status commander, Witham said.
2nd Lt. Stephanie Leguizamon, a spokeswoman for Marine Forces Reserve, said 56 Marines and sailors from Charlie Company, Assault Amphibian Battalion, were currently assisting the Galveston, Texas, Fire Department with search-and-rescue missions.
At a briefing Monday, Army Col. Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said that Randolph-Seguin auxiliary airfield at Joint Base San Antonio has been designated as a forward staging area for the distribution of supplies and equipment in anticipation that active-duty troops would be headed to Texas.
The Pentagon also sent to Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth a search-and-rescue unit with nine rotary-wing aircraft, two fixed-wing aircraft, para-rescue teams and planners, Manning said.
The Defense Department was also pre-positioning troops, search and rescue units, aircraft, vehicles, equipment and supplies to staging areas near the worst of the flooding to await Abbott's request for assistance, Manning said.
"As of now, all Guard personnel providing assistance are on Title 32, or state orders. Active-duty units are enroute to the staging area in anticipation of a possible request," Manning said, but "here has been no formal tasking of Title 10 DoD units," meaning active-duty forces.
Late Friday, U.S. Northern Command said several actions underway in Texas at the request of Abbott for specific units and in support of FEMA.
In a statement, NorthCom said nine helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft, along with pararescue teams and associated command and control elements, were operating out of Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth, Texas.
NorthCom said those Navy and Air Force search-and-rescue (SAR) assets were flying missions that resulted in more than 225 rescues. In addition, five Zodiak rescue boat crews were assisting with rescues.
NorthCom also said that about 100 light and medium tactical vehicles were on the move from the Army post at Fort Hood, Texas, to Katy, Texas, to support the Red Cross in moving patients and residents out of flooded areas in Houston.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.