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Louisiana, Texas governors ask for up to 40,000 troops amid hurricane threat

AFP | September 23, 2005

The governors of Texas and Louisiana called Thursday for up to 40,000 additional federal and National Guard troops to assist in disaster relief in their states after Hurricane Rita strikes.

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The US military has dispatched helicopters and communications teams to Texas and plans to send Navy ships with 800 Marines on board behind the powerful storm, which is expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday.

But the Pentagon had not received any formal requests for additional troops from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Major Paul Swiergosz, a Defense Department spokesman.

The army was "leaning forward" in anticipation of requests for more troops, an army official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. But he added, "We're down to the bare bones."

"This morning I spoke to President Bush and requested that he preposition 10,000 federal troops in Texas to assist with search and rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath of the storm," Texas Governor Rick Perry said.

Perry said the federal troops would be in addition to 5,000 troops from the Texas National Guard that have been activated, and more than 1,000 state troopers that have been prepositioned.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco said in her state's capital Baton Rouge she has requested an additional 15,000 federal troops and an extra 15,000 National Guards for possible search and rescue, communications and transportation.

Thousands of troops have been on the ground to help Louisiana with Hurricane Katrina relief.

Bush, who came under heavy fire for the slow response to Hurricane Katrina three weeks ago, told reporters at the Pentagon the government were preparing for the worst in Texas.

"Our armed forces have pre-positioned troops. We have resources there to help the federal, state and local officials to respond swiftly and effectively," he said.

Any additional army troops for the effort would likely come from the Fort Hood, Texas-based 1st Cavalry Division, an army official said.

The official said other US-based units, such as the Kentucky-based 101st Airborne Division and the Texas-based 4th Infantry Division, are preparing to deploy to Iraq. Other units such as a Stryker Brigade in Fort Lewis, Washington have just returned.

The 82nd Airborne Division already has about 4,000 troops in Louisiana as well as three other battalions in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It's tapped out," he said.

In New Orleans, Lieutenant General Russel Honore said 82nd Airborne Division troops there were hunkering down for the storm in Louisiana amid fears of further flooding.

"Their first mission is to survive Rita in place in New Orleans and in southeast Louisiana," he said. They would then be used to deal with any flooding or to serve as reinforcements, he added.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said there are 22 major military installations in Texas. "With respect to military capacity, there is already a lot right there in the region," Whitman said.

He said all US navy ships in the Gulf have moved out of the way of the new storm, but some were planning to swing in behind it with a contingent of Marines to be on the scene soon after it makes landfall.

"The USS Iwo Jima, the Shreveport, the Tortuga, Grapple, Patuxent and the Comfort are all preparing to follow the storm to the Texas coast," Whitman said.

Five small military communications teams equipped with satellite phones and radio systems have been provided to FEMA, he said.

Communications breakdowns due to wiped out cellphone towers were blamed in part for the chaotic government response to Hurricane Katrina when thousands of people were marooned by flood waters in New Orleans.

The military also has deployed 26 helicopters to Army Airfield Martindale in Texas for search and rescue missions and evacuations, another critical shortfall in the days after Katrina struck the Louisiana and Mississippi gulf coast.

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