ARLINGTON, Va., April 29, 2011 — Nearly 3,000 National Guardsmen are supporting civilian authorities in response to a number of fires, floods and tornados that have wreaked havoc across the country, Defense Department officials said today.
In the southeastern United States, 1,200 Guardsmen are providing relief following deadly storms and tornados that have killed an estimated 300 people in six states.
Alabama, the worst-hit state, has about 1,000 Guard members working there. The death toll is expected to increase, according to National Guard officials. At least 131 people were killed in Wednesday’s storms there, with dozens more injured and up to a million residents were without electric power.
“I have activated the Alabama National Guard to provide assistance whenever and wherever they are needed to help our local communities that have experienced widespread destruction,” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said after declaring a state of emergency.
“These Guardsmen are well-trained and will take every action necessary to protect lives and property in this emergency,” Bentley said.
Guard members were delivering tarpaulins and clearing roads after hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged, according to Alabama National Guard officials. Bentley has authorized the activation of up to 2,000 Guard members.
The National Weather Service received more than 150 tornado reports in the South, including more than 60 in Alabama and almost 40 in Mississippi. With reports continuing to come in, the tornado outbreak might be the worst since 148 tornadoes struck 13 states in 16 hours in 1974, forecasters said.
About 120 soldiers were assisting in tornado recovery efforts yesterday in Mississippi, including the closure of streets and providing communications capabilities. A Mississippi Air National Guard C‑26 Metroliner flying over Alabama and Mississippi was providing real-time storm damage video, the Mississippi Guard reported.
The latest response comes as hundreds of Guard members already were supporting wildland firefighting efforts in Texas, responding to the aftermath of an Arkansas tornado and battling flooding in six states: Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri and North Dakota.
About 170 citizen-soldiers and Air Guard members were responding in Arkansas after tornadoes and high winds struck April 25, according to Arkansas National Guard officials. Duties included assisting evacuees, clearing roads, providing security and transporting water.
Moderate to severe flooding has impacted the Red, Minnesota, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Guard officials reported. About 1,700 Guardsmen are providing flood relief in Missouri, North Dakota, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana, according to Defense Department officials.
Flood support typically includes levee patrols, quick reaction forces standing by for rescues, traffic control points, sandbagging, barrier construction and other duties.
In Kentucky, about 125 Guard members were sandbagging, erecting water barriers and supporting civilian law enforcement authorities in response to Ohio River flooding. “The National Guard is Kentucky’s hometown defense force, and as such we have
a personal stake in this fight,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, adjutant general. “We have the experience and expertise to see this crisis through.” Citizen-soldiers and Air Guard members began responding to Illinois flood threats April 26.
“We are still in the early stages of this mission, so as always, we stand ready to answer the call for additional support if needed,” said Army Maj. Gen. William Enyart, adjutant general. “As we have during the floods of 1993 and 2008, our soldiers and airmen are ready to assist whenever and wherever.”
In Missouri, more than 600 Guard members were supporting tornado and flood response with sandbagging, earth moving and water rescue capabilities. Missouri Guard members rescued a family stranded by flood waters on April 26.
“It’s been a heck of a day; it was rough,” Randy White told a Missouri Guard member after his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren were rescued. “It’s a good thing the National Guard is here. They did a great job.”
“Our concern is for the safety of the citizens,” said Army Col. Wendul Hagler, task force commander. “This is an important mission. It’s about more than a few people. It’s about the livelihood of an entire community.”
Guard members also are supporting the Border Patrol on the nation’s Southwest border, contributing to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response, protecting critical infrastructure and performing other domestic missions in support of civilian authorities.
Also, about 100 troops are fighting wildfires in Texas, North Carolina and California.
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 Guard members are either alerted, mobilizing, deployed or demobilizing for overseas operations in more than five countries, according to Guard officials.
(Editor’s Note: National Guard Bureau and individual state reports and civilian media contributed to this report.)
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)