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National Guard orders 4,200 military policemen to New Orleans

WASHINGTON—The National Guard has ordered 4,200 military police officers to New Orleans to help overwhelmed civilian authorities in the swamped city restore order in the wake of deadly Hurricane Katrina, officials said Thursday.

Lt. Gen. Steven H. Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said 1,400 National Guard military police would arrive in New Orleans by Friday, followed by another 1,400 on Saturday and 1,400 more on Sunday.

"These are trained professionals," Blum said, speaking at a press conference with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other federal officials. "They are military-police-trained, badge-carrying law enforcement officers."

Blum and other officials said the Guardsmen would operate under the direction of civilian law enforcement officials.

Blum didn't specify which states the Guardsmen would be coming from, but he said that National Guard relief efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi would eventually draw in citizen soldiers from nearly every state in the country.

"We will be there ... for as long as they need it," he said.

Jack Harrison, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau in Washington, said that more than 13,000 National Guard troops were on duty in the Gulf states. That number was expected to top 30,000 "within the next couple of days," he said.

Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said National Guard troops from West Virginia, Washington, D.C., Utah, New Mexico, Missouri, Oklahoma, Washington state, Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan and Arkansas have been sent to the stricken region or are awaiting deployment orders.

Louisiana and Mississippi each have about 3,000 National Guardsmen serving in Iraq, leaving shortages in troops and equipment. With the National Guard's commitment in Iraq at its highest point since the war began, there have been serious concerns that the Guard lacks sufficient troops or critical assets such as bulldozers, water purification equipment, cargo trucks and helicopters to handle the crisis. But Blum said earlier this week that the Guard could "clearly handle this situation" and the war at the same time.

More than 1,100 Guardsmen from Missouri, including military police units, reported deployment orders Thursday; 2,500 troops from the Pennsylvania National Guard were preparing to deploy; 300 had been called up from South Carolina. Kansas reported 120 Guardsmen would be sent. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said his state would send 500 Guard troops. The Texas National Guard said it had dispatched 1,000 soldiers and airmen to New Orleans and plans to send more in the coming days.

The National Guard and active-duty military have mounted a domestic rescue and relief effort unmatched in recent U.S. history.

Michael Kucahrek, a spokesman for U.S. Northern Command, which is spearheading the active-duty military's portion of relief efforts, said more than 7,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are taking part.

Most are sailors. The Navy said Thursday that the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman was preparing to leave for the Gulf of Mexico to serve as a floating command center. The carrier will stop off in Jacksonville, Fla., to pick up helicopters for search-and-rescue missions and is expected to arrive off the Gulf Coast by Tuesday, said Lt. Herb Josey, a Navy spokesman. The carrier will be accompanied by the USS Whidbey, an amphibious landing ship.

Helicopters from the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship, were already flying search-and-rescue missions in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Marines dispatched six CH-53 and two CH-46 helicopters from New River Air Station in North Carolina to assist in search-and-rescue operations, said Capt. Gabrielle Chapin, a Marine Corps spokeswoman. Four CH-53 aircraft have been dispatched from a Marine Corps Reserve unit at Willow Grove, Pa.; three UH-1 "Huey" helicopters and one AH-1 Cobra gunship had been sent from Marine reserve units in Marietta, Ga., and Belle Chase, La., Chapin said.

A Marine Corps Reserve unit from Jacksonville, Fla., had sent eight amphibious assault vehicles to Gulfport, Miss., Chapin said.

The Air Force said that about 100 combat engineers from Hurlburt Field in Florida were sent to Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi to deliver supplies, remove debris and set up temporary shelters.

The 5th Combat Communications Group from Robins Air Force Base in Georgia departed to set up communications at Keesler and at a temporary hospital in New Orleans.

Two aeromedical evacuation teams from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois left Thursday for New Orleans.

A U-2 spy plane from Barksdale Air Force Base in California flew over the Gulf Coast Thursday, taking high-resolution photos to help determine the extent of the damage, the Air Force said. The 347th Rescue Wing from Moody Air Force Base in Georgia said its helicopters had rescued 211 people in Mississippi.

The Air Force airlifted 190 tons of supplies. Air Force crews had arrived at New Orleans International Airport and Lafayette Regional Airport to pave the way for C-17 and C-5 cargo jets to deliver more supplies.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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