Two Navy Warships Underway for Storm Relief in Texas, Louisiana

  • Amphibious Assault Ship USS Kearsarge (Navy Photo)
    Amphibious Assault Ship USS Kearsarge (Navy Photo)
  • Dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) transits the Gulf of Suez, after completing the passage of the Suez Canal. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication 2nd Class Jeremy L. Grisham)
    Dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) transits the Gulf of Suez, after completing the passage of the Suez Canal. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication 2nd Class Jeremy L. Grisham)

More than 6,300 active-duty air, ground and naval personnel were engaged in storm rescue and relief in Texas and Louisiana on Thursday.

They will soon be joined by two Navy warships leaving port in Virginia, military officials said Thursday.

In a sign that the military will be involved long-term in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of Fleet Forces Command, ordered the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge and the dock landing ship Oak Hill to take up positions off the Gulf Coast.

The Kearsarge, with Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard, was leaving Thursday from Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, while the Oak Hill was departing from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, the Navy said in a statement.

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"These ships are capable of providing medical support, maritime civil affairs, maritime security, expeditionary logistic support, medium- and heavy-lift air support, and bring a diverse capability including assessment and security," the Navy said.

While state and local agencies have the lead, "We recognize recovery from this catastrophic disaster will be a long-term effort," the service said.

Air Force and Navy helicopters began flying rescue missions in Texas on Monday night, marking the first use of active-duty military assets in the hurricane rescue efforts, according to a Pentagon official. The helicopters used included six Navy MH-60s and three Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawks.

U.S. Northern Command said more than 6,300 active-duty personnel have deployed to areas hit by the storms and floods, and they had rescued or assisted 1,200 people by early Thursday.

The assets deployed include 73 helicopters, three C-130s, and eight pararescue teams for search and rescue and evacuation.

In addition, NorthCom has set up three Incident Support Bases at Fort Hood, Joint Base San Antonio and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort-Worth to support forward distribution of supplies and equipment to the affected area.

Master Sgt. John Gordinier, a NorthCom spokesman, said the active-duty personnel and assets being deployed were requested either by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under authorities that went into effect when President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Texas and Louisiana.

Most of the requests have come from FEMA, Gordinier said.

The active-duty personnel join a total of about 14,000 National Guard troops, mostly from Texas, who have been mobilized to deal with the aftereffects of the hurricane and its spinoff storms, which have dropped the most rainfall ever recorded in the continental U.S., according to the National Weather Service.

Although 14,000 Guard personnel have been mobilized, about 5,200 were actively engaged in disaster relief Thursday in Texas and about 525 in Louisiana, said Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, said that service is shifting some assets eastward in trace of the storms that were headed to the Ohio River Valley.

But NorthCom's Gordinier said, "All our focus right now is on Texas and Louisiana."

Zukunft said of Texas, "We are still very much in emergency response phase" and "our main priority is recovering survivors. We will be there for as long as it takes."

In addition to commitments in Texas and Louisiana, "We will be able to shift our resources to the east," he said.

"We will be able to stay in front of this," he added.

Aboard Air Force Two en route to Texas with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke gave a rundown on the impact of the hurricane and the response:

  • 232 shelters housing about 32,000 people have been opened.
  • 21,000 federal workers are being mobilized, including those already in Texas.
  • 14,000 National Guard personnel have been mobilized.
  • 3,500 FEMA workers are in Texas. 700 Coast Guard and 550 Customs Border Patrol officers are mobilized.
  • Estimates of emergency calls coming in were as high as 900 per hour but are now about 500 per hour.
  • Major disaster declarations exist in 30 Texas counties and five Louisiana parishes.
  • Texans affected by mandatory evacuation: 779,000.
  • Texans affected by voluntary evacuation: 980,000.
  • In Louisiana, there were 7,000 mandatory evacuations and 133,000 voluntary evacuations.
  • The Coast Guard reports it has saved 3,000 lives.
  • 120,000 residents of Beaumont, Texas, are without water.

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

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