US military sends aircraft, warships to assist in relief efforts in Texas

The 1st Battalion (Airborne), 143rd Infantry Regiment of the Texas Army National Guard prepare and stage for rescue missions near Liberty, Texas.
The 1st Battalion (Airborne), 143rd Infantry Regiment of the Texas Army National Guard prepare and stage for rescue missions near Liberty, Texas. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON - The US military has mobilised its resources to help in relief efforts after tropical storm Harvey battered Texas, supplementing the efforts by local law enforcement and civilian volunteers.

Local, state and military rescue units have saved thousands of stranded residents from the water and inundated homes, reported CNN.

In Texas, the state's entire National Guard, made up of about 12,000 troops, has been activated. The Defence Department and Texas Governor Greg Abbott agreed on Sunday to establish a "dual-status command" that would allow a single commander for both federal and state forces overseeing and coordinating the response.

On Monday, military surgical teams, communications teams, maintenance and other military support elements totalling more than 400 personnel were ordered to prepare for deployment within 24 hours.

Two US navy warships - the USS Kearsage and USS Oak Hill - have been deployed to Texas. The Kearsage, an amphibious assault ship, was in the Atlantic Ocean for training, but returned to Norfolk on Tuesday (Aug 29) to load up with disaster relief supplies and a unit of Marines before departing for Texas on Thursday.

The Oak Hill, which is a smaller dock landing ship, was to bring supplies and join the Kearsage in supporting "federal, state and local authorities ongoing relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey", according to the navy.

A US Marine Corps official said that 690 Marines would be onboard the Kearsage and Oak Hill.

Meanwhile, 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, including six navy MH-60s and three air force HH-60 rotary wing aircraft.

Subsequently, on Tuesday, the US Northern Command deployed nine search-and-rescue helicopters, two fixed-wing aircraft and para-rescue teams to Fort Worth, which have been actively assisting in relief operations.

The military helicopters are being used alongside coastguard choppers, which have been taking the lead in coordinating air operations, according to a defence official.

A US P-8 naval surveillance plane was pressed into service on Tuesday night to provide accurate imagery to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the area affected by the tropical storm.

In combat zones, the aircraft provides high resolution imagery, reconnaissance and surveillance data, but in civilian emergencies, the focus is on assessing widespread areas for rescue and recovery, according to CNN.

The Texas National Guard has deployed 16 aircraft of its own, while the New York Air National Guard has provided one C-130 aircraft, three HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and two C-17 cargo planes. There are also six helicopters from the Utah, Nebraska and North Carolina army national guards.

The Texas National Guard is also using about 200 humvees and 200 high-water vehicles.

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, has 39 helicopters and seven aircraft stationed at two operating bases in New Orleans and Houston available for Texas and Louisiana, according to a tweet from the service on Tuesday.

The Coast Guard primarily uses the H-65 Dolphin and HH-60 Jayhawk, while the C-130 serves as its main fixed-wing cargo plane.

More than a hundred 2.5-tonne US army trucks capable of operations in high water were sent to flooded areas of Houston on Tuesday to rescue and move people through high water.

The Pentagon's Defence Logistics Agency was also providing 450,000 gallons of diesel and 50,000 gallons of gas that was expected to arrive at Fort Hood on Wednesday.