ARLINGTON, Va. – More than 500 National Guard members are supporting civilian authorities in five states today after the second night this week of devastating tornadoes in the Midwest and South.
More than 350 Indiana National Guard troops started providing search and rescue, debris removal, traffic control and presence patrols within hours of a Friday afternoon tornado strike in the southern part of the state, according to National Guard Bureau officials and Army Maj. Shawn Gardner, state public affairs officer.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the individuals in Southern Indiana who have suffered this tragic loss,” Gardner said. “The Indiana National Guard stands ready to help and assist in whatever manner they may need to help them recover from this tragedy.”
At least 10 states were affected by tornadoes that struck on Wednesday and Friday.
National Guard troops were already on the ground this morning or being called out to support civilian authorities in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia.
In Indiana, Gardner credited the rapid response to state leaders and strong relationships built between the National Guard and civilian authorities long before up to 16 tornadoes hit on Friday afternoon, killing at least 13 people, injuring others and destroying the town of Maryville, home to 2,166 people.
“The Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the National Guard have a tight working relationship with great leadership who stand ready to respond to any natural or manmade disaster that may happen within the state of Indiana,” Gardner said.
Indiana Guard members were also helping Emergency Medical Service personnel evacuate patients and deliver critically needed medication and providing aviation support, among other missions, NGB officials reported.
More than 100 Guard members are on duty in Missouri, hit by tornadoes on Wednesday and Friday.
The Missouri National Guard has focused its continued efforts in Taney County around Branson in Southwest Missouri.
“We are here to assist the local police department [and] fire department with … debris removal, presence patrols, security to prevent looting and any other assistance that the city would need from us,” said Army Col. Gregory Mason, assistant adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard.
"We're glad to be able to help people, said Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner, adjutant general. “Our motto – as the governor says – is to help good people through bad times. With 11,600 airmen and soldiers there's no skill set on the civilian side that you can't find somewhere in the Missouri National Guard. That makes it very valuable when we come in because if there is a specific mission or specific skill set that is required we can usually find someone in the Guard to bring in for that.”
The response effort in Missouri is being overseen by the Army Guard’s 35th Engineer Brigade out of Fort Leonard Wood.
“We get the mission done,” Danner said. “When lives are at stake, the governor is insistent: He has a four-point plan where he talks about you've got to come in and first thing is safety and security, rescue and then recovery. And then your after-action reports to improve what you've done. Governor Nixon is very insistent that we use a methodical process to ensure that our mission is successful every time. That's what has worked for the Guard.
“It's important that we let the citizens know we are here to assist the local law enforcement, city police and the county – who have done a tremendous job in ensuring the safety of the citizens here, but also the security of their valuables until they're able to retrieve them.”
In Kentucky, about 80 Guard members are assisting local authorities with medical support, security and traffic control.
“The Guard being here means safety,” said Hodgenville, Ky., Mayor Terry L. Cruse, whose community was hit hard on Wednesday. “These people have lost a lot, and to have the security the Soldiers provide, it’s one less thing they have to worry about."
In West Virginia, about 20 Guard members were assisting with debris removal after severe weather affected 10 counties on Tuesday, bringing heavy rains that caused flash-flooding.
After up to 16 tornadoes struck Alabama on Friday, including a near-direct hit on a state prison, the Alabama National Guard is mobilizing, NGB officials said today.
The Missouri National Guard’s Army Pfc. Collin Chenoweth said being in the National Guard gives him a chance to help that most citizens don’t have.
“A lot of people want to help and can't,” Chenoweth said. “Being in the Guard gives me the opportunity.”
The Kentucky and the Missouri National Guard contributed.