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Pentagon expands rescue, relief operation

The Pentagon on Wednesday ordered another 10,000 National Guards to the storm-hit region, about one-third of them tasked with keeping order, in what was shaping up to be an unprecedented rescue-and-relief mission.
/ Source: The Associated Press

From Navy ships and Army helicopters to the USNS Comfort hospital ship, the Pentagon was mobilizing possibly an unprecedented rescue-and-relief mission for areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. On Wednesday afternoon, the military ordered another 10,000 National Guards to the storm-hit region, about one-third of them tasked with keeping order.

The deployment will bring to 21,000 the number of Guard personnel sent to the region. They are to be dispatched from several other states, including West Virginia, District of Columbia, New Mexico, Utah, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Washington, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan,  Lt. General Steven Blum said at a briefing in Washington, D.C.

Roughly one-third of the additional National Guard troops are to be military police, tasked with assisting local law enforcement trying to control looting, Blum said. Also, a significant number of those troops are part of truck companies. Blum says "hundreds" of five-ton trucks carrying water and other much needed supplies will head to the area in coming days.

Largely coordinated by the U.S. Northern Command, all of the military services are participating in what many say is the largest domestic disaster relief effort in years. The military is mainly providing search and rescue, medical help and supplies in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Wednesday morning, four Navy ships loaded with supplies — ranging from food and water to soap and medical supplies — were preparing to leave Virginia, and expect to arrive in the Gulf by the weekend, according to the Navy.

In addition, USNS Comfort was leaving Baltimore en route to the Gulf region and eight swift water rescue teams from California were on the way to Lafayette, La., to help pull stranded residents from their flooded homes and neighborhoods.

The Army and Air Force were also providing search and rescue helicopters, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was organizing what will be one of its largest response efforts in recent memory.

Coast Guard mobilized
The Coast Guard also has mobilized to conduct rescue efforts. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff — whose agency oversees the Coast Guard — has authorized the call-up of 550 Coast Guard reservists to help in recovery operations, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Carter said.

The military presence will supplement a massive response by the Red Cross, which sent in 185 emergency vehicles to provide meals and shelter for about 40,000 people staying in 200 facilities across the affected area.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said medical specialists from Washington state were joining similar teams called in from Massachusetts, New Mexico, Ohio, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Florida to assist people in damaged areas. The agency said previously that it has 500 trucks of ice, 500 trucks of water and 350 trucks of ready-to-eat military meals scheduled for distribution in the next 10 days.

President Bush was on Wednesday. He was expected to tour the storm-damaged areas later in the week.

Katrina came ashore Monday between New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss., inundating large areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.