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Up to 30,000 more National Guardsmen could deploy in response to Hurricane Harvey, Pentagon says

Texas National Guard soldiers search by boat for stranded residents in heavily flooded areas of Houston on Monday. (Lt. Zachary West/Texas Military Department/Reuters)

The Pentagon’s response to Hurricane Harvey came into clearer focus Tuesday, with a general saying that up to 30,000 additional National Guardsmen from multiple states could join a military effort that already includes thousands of Texas guardsmen, about 1,000 active-duty troops and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The additional guardsmen have not yet been told to deploy but were alerted that they could be needed as the federal government grapples with the scale of the historic flooding in Texas, said Air Force Maj. Gen. James Witham, the National Guard Bureau’s director of domestic operations. Guardsmen also have begun to station equipment and supplies in Louisiana, which is bracing for serious flooding.

Witham, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, have instructed their staffs to lean as far forward as they can in planning for what military response may be needed.

There are currently about 30 National Guard helicopters carrying out search-and-rescue missions, medical evacuations and other assignments, and the Texas government already has requested 24 more, Witham said. It is difficult to estimate how many people have been rescued because of the response’s evolving nature, but the National Guard gave a conservative estimate that it has rescued 3,500 people and 300 pets so far, primarily by boat.

“There is the potential that we could grow up to 100 helicopters as required by the state of Texas as we continue to respond to the historic flooding around the Houston area,” the general said. “These include both Army National Guard and Air National Guard rotary wing assets.”

Witham said that the historic flooding of unusual duration has prompted the National Guard Bureau and the Pentagon to plan its response differently than it typically does following a hurricane.

“We will be doing life-saving and life-sustaining efforts for a much longer period due to the nature of this storm,” he said.