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Tuesday, October 24 2017 @ 05:22 AM AST

U.S. deploys National Guard, aid for Hurricane Maria victims

The US government has deployed 1,520 National Guardsmen, aid and other resources to help victims of Hurricane Maria, the US Department of Defense said yesterday. The US State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kenneth Merten and USAID's Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader Tim Callaghan told journalists on a conference call arranged by the US Embassy in Port of Spain, yesterday (Sept. 21), many of Hurricane Maria's victims are and were expected to continue to be from the US' Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Island (USVI) of St Croix.

Still very active, Maria has so far ravaged Dominica as a Category 5 storm with winds up to 160 miles per hour (mph), leaving a death toll of at least 15. Maria beat on the USVI and Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm with winds up to 150 mph. Weather models predicted Puerto Rico would receive 20-25 inches of rain and 6 to 9 feet of storm surge, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Following a path similar to Category 5 Hurricane Irma, two weeks ago, Maria is projected onward to the southern islands of The Bahamas and Turks & Caicos next.

Puerto Rico's local government reported about 63,500 people are still without power and another 200 are still in shelters on the island. Many people who sought shelter in Puerto Rico from harder-hit islands nearby are unfortunately seeking shelter once more. US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico and the USVI since September 18. Air operations there have ceased and all airports have closed.

SOLIDARITY WITH DOMINICA

"The United States stands in solidarity with the people of Dominica and all those across the Caribbean region affected by the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria. The United States stands ready to work with you and our international partners to provide immediate disaster relief. We are in the process of coordinating the best possible package of assistance," said US Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert in a statement from the US Embassy in Port of Spain.

She said: "The recent natural disasters underscore our interconnectedness and the importance of strong partnership with the Caribbean. The Department of State has an ongoing Task Force working to determine the extent of the damages, to coordinate evacuation efforts, and to provide assistance to U.S. citizens in the affected countries. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Caribbean region."

RELIEF

Two UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopters from the Kentucky Army National Guard and another four from the Tennessee Army National Guard, operating out of St Croix, were sheltered in Puerto Rico, the US Department of Defense said in a September 20 statement.

"About 430 Virgin Islands National Guardsmen are still called up and another 390 brought in from other states for support will shelter in place to help in first response. A select number of National Guardsmen on the ground via an Emergency Management Assistance Compact have been relocated to Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, for the time being," the Defense Department said.

"The USVI welcomed a Joint Incident Site Communication Capability team from the New York National Guard September 19. The team will assist in communications support for first responders and other government agencies after the storm. USVI Governor Kenneth Mapp signed mutual orders of understandings with Puerto Rico and New York for Military Police support," the Defense Department said.

Puerto Rico has slightly more than 500 guard members reporting for duty, the US National Guard statement said. Overall, three Air National Guard C-130 Hercules transport aircraft are on standby at San Juan, Puerto Rico, for St Thomas evacuation operations. A mobile kitchen trailer and 15 service members are set to deploy to St Thomas, USVI, post-landfall. Eleven pallets of food and water have also been arranged post landfall from Kentucky. St Croix, USVI, is set to receive two Joint Incident Site Communications Capability systems; one each from the Maine National Guard and the New York National Guard. The Defense Department statement said: "More than 200 guard members have been called from multiple states to provide hurricane relief efforts to the USVI once air operations commence."

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