From August through October, Naval Aviation Enterprise personnel and resources aided in DOD’s responses to areas ravaged by three powerful hurricanes, supporting humanitarian and relief operations in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean.
Texas: Hurricane Harvey
Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast Aug. 25, bringing violent winds and catastrophic flooding. In response, U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFF) sent amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) and dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) to support relief efforts by federal, state and local authorities.
After arriving in Texas, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 7 and HSC-28 went on to fly 49 sorties accumulating 225 flight hours, including 65 hours at night. They combined for 358 rescues while saving 22 dogs and five cats, conducting nine personnel transfers and delivering 1,660 pounds of water and food.
On Sept. 2, with the demand for search-and-rescue (SAR) missions decreasing, Sailors assigned to HSC-7 and HSC-28 began transitioning support of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts to HSC-21 and HSC-23, which focused largely on logistics support and supply delivery.
Florida, the Caribbean: Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma made landfall Sept. 10 as a Category 4 storm and wrought devastation in Florida as well the islands of the Caribbean. In advance of Irma, Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander, Navy Region Southeast, directed the evacuation of non-essential personnel and family members from Naval Air Station Key West, Florida.
Prior to landfall, the Navy directed amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), Kearsarge, Oak Hill and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to support humanitarian relief efforts.
In addition, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) departed its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, Sept. 8, for the Florida coast and was the first DOD responder on station to provide immediate SAR and medical evacuation support to civil authorities in the wake of Irma’s landfall. Helicopters from Lincoln flew water and supplies into affected areas.
Wasp was the first Navy platform to arrive in the vicinity of the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it provided medium- and heavy-lift helicopters to transport people and supplies. Wasp’s helicopters conducted medical evacuations for intensive care patients from St. Thomas to St. Croix and conducted site assessments of the initial damage in St. Thomas.
Also supporting relief efforts were amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) and their near-2,000 combined Sailors and Marines, which provided expeditionary logistic support, medium- and heavy-lift air support, medical support, maritime civil affairs and maritime security.
While on station, the two ships’ Sailors and Marines worked along the Lower Keys, from Marathon to Key West, clearing debris from 15 miles of roadway, distributing supplies and repairing generators and critical infrastructure.
Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands: Hurricane Maria
Arriving just two weeks after Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. About 80,000 residents were still without electricity when Maria made landfall Sept. 20. Its powerful winds knocked down trees and power lines and tore roofs from homes, while heavy rainfall caused landslides, cutting off many communities in the interior of the island.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, U.S. Northern Command commenced SAR and damage assessment flights in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with six Navy helicopters and three U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey aircraft launched from the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group.
Additionally, a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, launched from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, conducted an assessment of the damage in Puerto Rico.
Navy and Marine Corps forward ground elements responded at first light Sept. 21 to assist with response and recovery operations. Defense Department elements also focused on conducting airfield assessments and opening runways to facilitate the distribution of supplies.
The 26th MEU helped open the airfields at the Virgin Islands’ two airports—one on St. Croix and the other on St. Thomas.
Marines worked with Army Reserve soldiers and Puerto Rican Army National Guard to clear roads, even as the island was drenched by continuous rainfall and routes were closed by further landslides.
Repositioned from its Irma relief mission in the U.S. Virgin Islands to avoid Maria’s path, Wasp deployed to Dominica, where it evacuated 126 people, delivered humanitarian aid and proved instrumental in the rescue of two survivors from a plane crash Sept. 28.
The next day, U.S. Southern Command sent Wasp to join relief efforts for U.S. territories in Puerto Rican waters. The Sailors and Marines aboard Wasp, Kearsarge and Oak Hill were among the first to lend assistance to the stricken island.
The Military Sealift Command hospital ship, USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), arrived Oct. 3 in Puerto Rico with 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff and more than 70 civil service mariners to provide medical care in support of relief efforts.
The ship received five critical patients the following day from Ryder Memorial Hospital in Humacao, after the hospital’s generator failed. It received four more patients Oct. 6 from Hospital Menonita in Caguas, after its generator also failed.
By Oct. 15, Comfort had delivered more than 10 tons of food and water, 21,000 liters of oxygen and treated more than 100 patients to relieve pressure on the Puerto Rican health system.
As of Oct. 18, Comfort was operating in the vicinity of San Juan, with additional visits around the island being planned.
Compiled by Emanuel Cavallaro from news releases by U.S. Fleet Forces Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Southern Command, Navy Region Southeast Public Affairs, USS Iwo Jima, MC1 Christopher Lindahl, MC1 Ernest Scott and Commander, Carrier Strike Group 10.