Carrier George Washington to deploy for Hurricane Matthew relief

By: David B Larter and Mark D. Faram

This story was originally published Oct. 4 at 12:24 and has been updated.

The U.S. military’s massive disaster relief machine is kicking into gear.

The government of Haiti has requested U.S. aid as the slow-moving Hurricane Matthew pounds the island, according to a USAID spokesman. The aid organization has also activated its disaster response team.

The carrier George Washington and the amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde put to sea Tuesday with Navy and Marine aircraft aboard and are headed to the Caribbean to provide relief from the storm if needed. The GW’s air wing is composed of V-22 Ospreys and MH-60 Seahawks, sources said.

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The hospital ship Comfort is also gearing up for the major operation, but has not yet left port. The ships have not been issued any official orders tied to Haiti’s request for assistance, said Cmdr. Dave Hecht, spokesman for the Naval Air Forces, Atlantic.

“We’ve learned from experience that it’s best to load up and head to sea in advance of the storm so we are ready if needed,” Hecht said. “The George Washington has been on alert for roughly the past 48 hours, he said. “She’ll go out enough to be clear of the storm and wait to see what Mother Nature does.”

U.S. Southern Command has also redeployed nine Marine helicopters and 100 personnel from Honduras to Grand Cayman to prepare for relief operations, according to a SOUTHCOM release.

Members from Joint Task Force-Bravo and Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Southern Command boarded CH-53E Super Stallions, CH-47 Chinooks, and UH-60L Black Hawks and shipped out early Tuesday, according to the release, and are standing by for “heavy-lift support,” according to the release.

“Our country is a compassionate nation with a long history of helping countries impacted by natural disasters like this,” said SOUTHCOM boss Adm. Kurt Tidd in the release. “We’re ready to support USAID, if needed, to save lives, alleviate human suffering and provide aid to those afflicted by this storm.”

The scope of the effort in motion is reminiscent of the U.S. response to the 2010 earthquake with devastated Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of Haitians. That response ultimately included 22,000 troops, more than 30 Navy and Coast Guard ships and 300 aircraft, according to a Rand study documenting the military’s actions.

DoD began prepping for the storm over the weekend, when it evacuated 700 family members and pets from the Navy’s installation at Guantanamo Bay. Those families will stay at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, until it’s safe to return.

About 5,000 troops at Guantanamo are still in the storm’s path.

Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti’s southwestern coast on Tuesday at 7 a.m. with sustained winds of 145 miles per hour. By mid-day, it was located 35 miles northeast of Tiburon, Haiti and was expected to move over eastern Cuba by the afternoon.

“It’s much too early to know how bad things are but we do know there are a lot of houses that have been destroyed or damaged in the south,” Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of the Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency, told The Associated Press Tuesday.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the category 4 hurricane could make skirt the Florida peninsula and make landfall somewhere near the Wilmington, North Carolina, area, a projected path that would put a number of military bases, including Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, Norfolk Naval Base, Oceana Naval Air Station and numerous other installations in Virginia’s Tidewater region at risk .

Staff writer Patricia Kime contributed to this report.

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