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NEWS | June 30, 2006

National Guard Units Respond to Flooding in Northeast

By Spc. Jo Michael Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - More than 1,000 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard were involved in water rescues, evacuations and other emergency operations during the past days as widespread flooding caused a disaster emergency to be declared in 46 of the state's 67 counties.

The Pennsylvania Guardsmen were among National Guard soldiers and airmen in several states who responded or stood ready to respond if called following torrential rains that left large areas throughout the northeastern United States underwater.

Pennsylvania National Guard troops assisted in nearly 1,000 water rescues after Gov. Edward G. Rendell declared a state of emergency late June 27. Guard members also assisted in evacuations, transported meals to affected counties, delivered water and assisted Pennsylvania State Police at access control points, state officials reported.

Much of the Guard's effort focused on Wilkes-Barre, from which tens of thousands of people were evacuated during the emergency.

In addition to flying missions throughout the commonwealth, Guard members in the state's aviation battalions flew to the small town of Conklin, N.Y., just over the Pennsylvania border, to assist local residents trapped by floodwaters as the Susquehanna River rose to nearly 30 feet.

Crews from the 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment, and the 628th Division Aviation Support Battalion traveled north in CH-47 Chinook and UH-1 Huey helicopters to assist in the evacuation.

Broome County officials evacuated more than 4,000 residents to the Susquehanna Valley High School in Conklin, but as the river continued to rise, the school became surrounded by water, trapping the evacuees. The Pennsylvania Guard dispatched five CH-47 helicopters to transport the evacuees from the high school to Conklin Fire Station No. 2. From there, they were transported by bus to emergency shelters.

Maj. John Kubitz and Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Quinton led one of the crews. They maneuvered their CH-47 helicopter around power lines and trees to land on the football field of the high school. Once on the ground, crew members Sgt. Carl Hinton, Sgt. Dan Schmick, Sgt. Gregory Karli and Sgt. Justin Reynolds took charge of leading the evacuees onto the helicopter and securing them for the flight.

Staff Sgt. Greg Heinbaugh and Sgt. William Wrede were crew members on another Chinook when a call came in that three people were trapped on a rooftop. With nowhere to land, their crew was forced to hover over the house while Wrede was lowered in a jungle penetrator to rescue the residents. Heinbaugh operated the hoist and directed the pilots.

Meanwhile, more than 350 New York National Guard members were called to active duty to respond to flood-related missions in the Empire State.

Gov. George E. Pataki ordered the New York National Guard into action late June 27 in advance of the threat of severe flooding along the state's southern tier and other locations, according to Army Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, public affairs officer for the state's Joint Forces Headquarters.

Guard engineer and aviation forces surged forward the following day in support of local authorities in several communities, including the town of Walton and the city of Binghamton, rescuing trapped residents as the flooding began to spread.

The Guard troops helped rescue an estimated 80 residents from homes, trees and rooftops, officials reported. Search-and-rescue operations continued yesterday throughout the day.

The Guard is also providing four aircraft to assist State Police aviation units and ground personnel in rescue operations and transport supplies to affected counties, as well as 2-and-a-half-ton trucks. Also, the New York Guard is continuing to transport law enforcement, emergency and hospital workers, helping state utility vehicles. Engineering support is being provided to Delaware and Broome counties.

As flood waters recede, the New York Guard remains postured to continue its support as a part of the coordinated community recovery effort as directed through the State Emergency Management Office, Fanning said. Additional forces and resources stand ready for deployment when and as needed.

In New Jersey, eight National Guard soldiers just wrapped up three days of active duty, transporting police from Ewing and Trenton, N.J., in high-wheeled vehicles as they conducted last-minute evacuations along the Delaware River, Air Force Staff Sgt. Barbara Harbison, New Jersey Guard spokeswoman, reported.

In addition to supporting the police with 2-and-a-half-ton trucks and Palletized Load System trucks, the New Jersey Guard also manned its Joint Operations Center within the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Harbison said.

Fanning called the National Guard response to flooding in the region a testament to the force's readiness and flexibility.

"Once again, the Guard was ready and there when needed and will remain in place as long as necessary." Fanning said.

He noted the Guard's role in wide range of missions, often at one time. As the New York Guard provides emergency support in flood-stricken regions, for example, other Guard units continue their homeland defense missions at Grand Central and Penn Stations in New York City, and at the state's nuclear power sites, he said.

In addition, every state that mobilized its National Guard in response to flooding also afflicted also continued to provide troops for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the global war on terror, officials noted.

(Army Spc. Jo Michael serves in the Pennsylvania National Guard's Public Affairs Division. The American Forces Press Service provided additional information to this report with input from several National Guard public affairs offices.)