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States have enough troops to respond to disaster, Guard says

WASHINGTON—About 35 percent of Louisiana's National Guardsmen and 37 percent of Mississippi's have been deployed to Iraq or to support the war, but there are still enough troops to respond to Hurricane Katrina, a National Guard spokesman said Monday.

About 3,500 Army National Guardsmen in Louisiana have been activated to help with security, shelter, removing debris and distributing water and food, said spokesman Jack Harrison of the National Guard Bureau. That's about half the 6,500 troops who are available for the crisis.

More than 850 National Guardsmen in Mississippi have been activated around the state for the hurricane. Even with so many of Mississippi's National Guard troops called up for Iraq and other operations, more than 7,000 are available, Harrison said.

About 134 Guardsmen in Alabama have positioned trucks, generators and other equipment in anticipation of being called to assist. More than 9,800 Guardsmen, about 70 percent of the state's total, are available to respond if necessary, Harrison said.

In Alabama, Lt. Col. Robert Horton, a spokesman for the state's National Guard, said 350 Guardsmen had been called up for duty and another 400 had been requested for state duty in the coming days.

The Alabama Guard has set up a joint task force and emergency operations center in Mobile to coordinate relief efforts in the state. On Sunday, Gov. Bob Riley issued evacuation orders for southwest Alabama, including Mobile.

Alabama Guardsmen have been sandbagging low-lying areas in Mobile and are working under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stockpile relief supplies at Maxwell Air Force Base, near Montgomery. From there, supplies will be flown or shipped by truck to stricken areas in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Alabama has about 1,200 troops deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, but still has 9,000 Guardsmen available for the emergency.

Florida has activated 780 Guardsmen to distribute ice and water to stricken areas. They're also prepared to ship cots, medical equipment and other supplies.

No Guardsmen from Georgia have been sent to help with relief efforts yet, said Lt. Col. Jim Driscoll, a spokesman for the Georgia National Guard. But officials from Alabama and Georgia were to discuss the situation later Monday.

"After that, we'll have a better idea of what kind of support we can provide," Driscoll said.

The Georgia National Guard's 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team has had about 3,000 soldiers deployed to Iraq since May. That represents about 40 percent of the Georgia Guard's 8,000 troops. The Iraq deployment has left the Georgia Guard short in some areas, such as engineering assets, but it has plenty of aviation and military police troops standing by to help, Driscoll said.

Though many part-time troops from these states have been sent to Iraq, the war hasn't affected each state's ability to respond to emergencies at home, Harrison said.

"The states that are affected by this hurricane and the states that are surrounding those areas have plenty of National Guard resources available for them to respond to this emergency," Harrison said.

Before the war, Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, promised the nation's governors that at least 50 percent of the Guardsmen in each state wouldn't be deployed, in case they were needed for state emergencies.

Most states have agreements with their neighbors that allow them to shift National Guard troops and equipment from one state to another.

"That significantly increases the number of troops available in an emergency like this," Harrison said. "It's the same thing that the Western states do with wildfires."

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

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