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63,000 Military Personnel Join Hurricane Relief

Over 63,000 Military Personnel Join Hurricane Relief Efforts

Mexican ship, Canadian divers aiding rescue, reconstruction operations

Washington -- More than 63,000 U.S. soldiers are participating in the relief effort in New Orleans and along the U.S. Gulf Coast, a Defense Department spokesman says.

Lieutenant General Joseph Inge, deputy commander of the U.S. Northern Command, briefed journalists at the Pentagon via videoconference September 7 on the extent of military participation in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

Hurricane Katrina struck the southeastern United States August 29, causing widespread damage and prompting the largest domestic relief effort in U.S. history.

He said 45,000 National Guardsmen and 18,000 active duty troops are involved, working in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal entities. U.S. Army airborne and cavalry units and two Marine expeditionary units are involved.

Inge said the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima and the dock landing ship Tortuga are now in New Orleans harbor. The latter vessel is being used to provide temporary housing for police and other emergency workers. He said the Navy is performing harbor salvage and is surveying critical offshore oil storage and facilities.

In addition, Coast Guards personnel "have been doing tremendous work around the clock to rescue people," he said.

Moreover, international help is arriving, Inge said. Canadian divers in the water off Pascagoula, Mississippi, are helping with harbor reconstruction there. A Mexican vessel with helicopter platforms will arrive September 7 to join the USS Bataan in the Gulf of Mexico for search-and- rescue operations.

The military has delivered 7 million liters of water, 5 million pounds of ice, and 2 million meals ready-to-eat over the past 24 hours, Inge said. All the while, search and rescue efforts have continued in Louisiana and Mississippi.

As for current activities, Inge said 71 hours of reconnaissance flight time is planned, providing air surveillance of the damage in order to determine what the next priorities will be. He said search and rescue efforts will continue, as will support for the evacuation of survivors.

Likewise, transport and distribution of relief supplies of ice, food, water and medical supplies continues. He said the military is also supporting firefighting efforts.

Looking ahead 24 to 72 hours, Inge said the military will:

• Continue to search isolated areas and conduct rescue operations;

• Provide for immediate needs of residents awaiting evacuation;

• Expand house-to-house searches;

• Expand medical facilities as needed for those sick and injured; and

• Deploy additional ships and aviation assets, if needed.

Inge added that the military hospital ship Comfort will arrive within 72 hours, and the U.S. Northern Command will continue to respond to FEMA requests for assistance.

Asked whether military forces would be used in forced evacuations of people from New Orleans, Inge said his understanding was "that civil authorities in Louisiana and New Orleans are discussing this issue … [but that] it's not clear to us what the exact state of the mission is." He said Northern Command would envision first using, if needed, the approximately 900 police officers now in New Orleans to force evacuations.

"If the authorities in the state of Louisiana chose to use their National Guard in a state status, that would certainly be permissible and their call," Inge said. But "when this turns into a law enforcement issue -- which we perceive forced evacuation is -- regular troops would not be used."

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