ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In addition to the Coast Guard, other branches of the US military are rapidly building up forces and equipment in the disaster area. National Guard troops from around the country are flying into the region to help state National Guard units already there. The Navy is building up a small armada off the Gulf Coast, and the Air Force has moved into Louisiana and Mississippi to treat and evacuate the injured. NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports.
VICKY O'HARA reporting:
In a telephone interview from Gulfport, Mississippi, the commander of the military's joint assistance effort told Pentagon reporters that the number of National Guard troops in Louisiana and Mississippi should total about 24,000 by the end of the day tomorrow. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore said that early today the total number of troops in the two states was about one-third of that. Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita says the additional Guard troops are coming from around the country under agreements that the states entered into after 9/11 to assist one another in the event of a crisis.
Mr. LARRY DI RITA (Pentagon Spokesman): Remember, we have 50 states; each of those states have National Guard units. And there are literally hundreds of thousands of National Guard personnel that form the pool of people that could be drawn on if the requirement is such, but we'll deal with it.
O'HARA: Di Rita says that a significant number of the incoming National Guard forces will be military police to help establish law and order. An Army official, who asked not to be identified, says the Army has told Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, to be prepared to deploy about 3,100 active-duty troops to New Orleans. Their mission? Security and humanitarian relief. The official said another 240 troops from the Army's Ft. Hood in Texas will leave for the region tomorrow.
The Air Force also is heavily involved in relief operations, now that the runway at New Orleans' international airport is dry enough for big planes to land. The operations are being coordinated by the Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. Colonel Don Lustig is the vice commander.
Colonel DON LUSTIG (Vice Commander, Scott Air Force Base): At New Orleans, the runway there was under water for some time. And when the water receded, we started to move our equipment to there, and then it rose again. Now it's high and the dry, and the runway is in good shape. The lighting of the runway is not good. Everybody's working off of emergency generators.
O'HARA: Lustig says the Air Force brought in lighting equipment to make the darkened airport operational 24 hours a day. He says the Air Force now has set up a medical facility at the airport. It's capable of handling 100 patients at a time.
Col. LUSTIG: Now that we have night operations, we can certainly ramp up the number of patients we can move out of New Orleans into a recovery area. The primary mission is to get the patients to an off-site location, but we also have the capacity to treat on site with our medical staging facility.
O'HARA: The Air Force also says it's deployed a U2 reconnaissance aircraft to provide imagery of the devastated Gulf Coast to emergency officials.
The relief operation will get an even bigger boost in the next few days as more Navy vessels arrive in the region. A large hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, has left Baltimore for the disaster area and is expected to arrive in four to five days. A Navy official, who asked not to be identified, says the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman out of Norfolk also has left for the Gulf Coast. Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, at the Pentagon.
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