THE PENTAGON — Ahead of an anticipated disaster relief mission in Haiti, the U.S. Navy is sending to sea aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73) from Naval Station Norfolk, Va. to await orders to head South, two defense officials told USNI News.
The amphibious warship USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) is set to leave Wednesday followed by the hospital USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) later this week, the officials confirmed.
Though no official tasking has been given, the Navy is anticipating a need for the ships to support humanitarian and disaster relief operations following the landfall of the Category 4 storm.
As of late Tuesday morning, Matthew was pounding the western coast of Haiti with winds as high as 140 mph, according to Tuesday data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“There is major destruction right now,” said Fidèle Nicolas, a civil protection coordinator in southwestern Haiti told The New York Times.
“Lots of rooftops are gone, but fatalities reported so far have been few.”
Haiti is still far from recovered from the earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people, sparked a cholera epidemic and resulted six years later in 50,000 living in temporary shelters along the path of Matthew.
Following the 2010 earthquake, the U.S. sent 17 ships and 10,000 sailors to help with the relief and reconstruction efforts as part of a multi-national support mission.
The storm is also passing near Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. About 700 family members and spouses were evacuated from the base ahead of the storm while the base’s complement of 4,800 troops and the 61 detainees held at the internment camp on the installation remained.
Guantanamo was a key logistics hub for the support effort and acted as a lily pad to move equipment and supplies into the country and will almost certainly be a major hub for any relief operations.