WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday the military stood ready to aid the U.S. response to Hurricane Irene, with some 101,000 National Guard forces available if needed to governors of East Coast states.
Some 55 million Americans on the eastern seaboard are bracing for the broad, menacing hurricane that President Barack Obama called "extremely dangerous."
The Pentagon said it had pre-positioned 225 trucks loaded with equipment, food, water and generators at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Eighteen helicopters were deployed to the northeastern United States to provide life-saving support, if needed.
Panetta convened a conference call with military and civilian members of his leadership team Friday to receive the latest update on Hurricane Irene and Defense Department readiness. A Pentagon spokesman said Panetta is standing by to review and approve requests for Defense Department support to hurricane relief efforts.
The U.S. military's Northern Command has been directed to assist response efforts led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Fort Bragg, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey and Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts have all been designated as FEMA incident support bases.
"As Americans located up and down the East Coast make preparations for Hurricane Irene's landfall ... the men and women of the Defense Department are working closely with FEMA as part of the larger government preparations and response to Hurricane Irene," Panetta, who is in California, said in a statement.
He told U.S. servicemembers abroad, including those fighting in the Iraq and Afghan wars, that family members back home would be supported in the storm's aftermath.
"You have my word that I will do everything possible to take care of your families who might be in the path of the storm," Panetta said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Eric Beech)