The Defense Department’s contribution to Hurricane Harvey could increase by tens of thousands of soldiers as recovery efforts begin, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.
Air Force Maj. Gen. James Witham said there are about 3,000 Texas National Guard troops currently helping on rescue and recovery efforts, with roughly 1,000 to join within a day.
“We are looking at posturing, just on the National Guard side, an additional 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers and airmen, that if requested could be brought in,” said Witham, the director of domestic operations for the National Guard Bureau.
The additional soldiers, though not yet requested, would be used to complete the response phase and begin the recovery phase.
Witham estimated that in the interim, the number of Texas national guardsmen helping could rise to 8,000 to 10,000 in coming days.
Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall Friday evening, has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, but record levels of rainfall have put than 50 Texas counties in a state of emergency.
President Trump issued a disaster proclamation on Friday night that made federal assistance available to both Texas and Louisiana, which are declared emergencies.
“This will be a long-term effort,” Witham told reporters at the Pentagon. “Usually when the Guard responds to hurricane-type events, normally we talk about that first 72-96 hours. Due to the nature of this storm … our response to this hurricane has been very different.
“Guardsmen will get tired and burn out as we do this. This has to be a phased approach in Texas,” he added.
Witham said the military is providing everything Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has requested, but the continuous rain and flooding roadways could limit some efforts.
Abbott a day earlier activated the state’s entire National Guard in response to Harvey, and the Pentagon has steadily stepped up its help in the region.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning said Monday that active duty units were also on the way to staging areas to prepare for a formal request for help.
The Texas National Guard has already used that 500 military vehicles — with 200 at the ready — and 30 helicopters for search-and-rescue and medical evacuations, with 24 requested by the state, Witham said.
“There’s a potential that we could grow up to 100 helicopters as required by the state of Texas,” he added.
The Coast Guard has also provided helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to deliver food and water to evacuees.
Out-of-state guard units are also helping in the rescue and recovery efforts with provided aircraft, including the New York Air National Guard, and the Utah, Nebraska and North Carolina Army National Guards, the Pentagon said.