National Guard Surging to Louisiana for Hurricane Relief, California to Combat Fires

Trees burn within eyesight of a California National Guard hand crew
Trees burn within eyesight of a California National Guard hand crew with Joint Task Force 578 during the Dixie Fire, Aug. 16, 2021, in Northern California. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Sgt. Harley Ramirez)

Search-and-rescue operations continued Wednesday in parts of Louisiana following Hurricane Ida, with Army and Air Force National Guard units rescuing 393 people and 60 pets as of midafternoon, the Guard's top officer said Wednesday.

More than 6,500 troops have deployed for disaster response, including 5,400 fanned out across 31 parishes in Louisiana. Search-and-rescue operations continue in four of those parishes, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in a conference call with reporters.

The total number of deployed service members is expected to rise to 8,000 by Thursday to conduct cleanup and assist with the restoration of utilities, including water and electricity, according to Hokanson.

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"Equipped with more than 175 high-water vehicles and 40 helicopters, they are conducting search-and-rescue sweeps, providing security and support of local law enforcement, establishing distribution locations for people to get food and water, or clearing roads to allow crews to restore power," he said.

Hurricane Ida struck coastal Louisiana on Sunday as a Category 4 storm, flooding low-lying areas and knocking out electricity for more than 1 million residents. At least four people had died as of Wednesday, including two in Mississippi who died after their cars plunged into a hole created when a highway collapsed from the rain, according to The Associated Press.

The affected areas are without utilities and are facing gasoline shortages. A curfew has been declared in New Orleans to discourage crime.

As of Wednesday, National Guard members had cleared 403 miles of roadway of debris and established 17 centers to distribute millions of bottles of water and thousands of meals, said Maj. Gen. Lee Hopkins, the Louisiana National Guard assistant adjutant general, speaking on the same call with reporters as Hokanson.

"Once roads are cleared, our engineers will transition to working with parishes to clear government buildings, municipal buildings to restore access so they can stand up their government," he added.

Hopkins said the Guard deployment for Hurricane Ida response should reach its peak in two to three weeks, then begin winding down.

As Guard members in Louisiana and Mississippi work under fiercely hot, humid conditions battling flooding, California Guard troops are battling fires more than 2,000 miles away.

As of Wednesday, 12,510 National Guard members were mobilized to fight wildfires across the West, including 600 on the Dixie fire and 300 on the Caldor fire, which threatens the Lake Tahoe area and caused the evacuation of residents from South Lake Tahoe.

"We have 16 major fires burning around the state," California Adjutant General Maj. Gen. David Baldwin told reporters during the call Wednesday.

"That may not seem a lot -- 20 or 30 years ago, we'd have many more fires burning. But the significant difference is these fires are huge. The fires are making runs of 20,000 to 30,000 acres per day. And 20 or 30 years ago, a big fire was a 20,000-acre fire that burned for several weeks. Now, we are seeing it in a single day," he said.

According to Baldwin, the Guard members are working under extremely hazardous conditions, including the "risk of falling trees," "huge walls of flame" choking some, and freezing temperatures at night.

"Our hand crews work 24-hour shifts, which is very, very physically demanding," Baldwin said.

He added that, with fuel conditions bad and the weather not cooperating, he could not predict when the activation would be over.

"Last year, we had soldiers and airmen in California fighting fires on Christmas Eve. So ... we have many months ahead of us," Baldwin said.

Roughly 200 active-duty troops were to arrive in California on Tuesday from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to assist in the fight, joining U.S. Forest Service; California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire; California Conservation Corps; California Department of Corrections; and other governmental and private groups in fighting the fires..

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: Coast Guard, National Guard Forces Begin Rescues and Aid in Response to Hurricane Ida

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