The Navy is preparing USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) and USS Oak Hill (LSD-51) to assist ongoing recovery efforts in the Texas and Louisiana gulf coast region following Hurricane Harvey, officials told USNI News on Tuesday.
“We are preparing and positioning them to get underway if requested,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Wierzbicki, Navy spokesperson.
Before sending the ships, home ported at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., an official request must be made by state and federal agencies. As of Tuesday afternoon, a request had not been made.
Defense News first reported Kearsarge and Oak Hill are available to assist local authorities.
Once in position, crews from each ship can perform search and rescue operations and the ships can deliver disaster response supplies and equipment to shore.
The Navy already sent six MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and four MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopters to Texas. Since arriving in College Station, Texas, on Monday, the MH 60 helicopters have conducted search and rescue missions with the U.S. Coast Guard, Wierzbicki said. The MH 53 heavy-lift helicopters are positioned in San Antonio in case they’re needed.
In the past, amphibious assault ships have provided vital humanitarian assistance to regions dealing with large natural disasters. In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group was loaded with disaster response equipment and sent to the Louisiana coast. The group consisted of USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), USS Shreveport (LPD-12), and USS Tortuga (LSD-46).
During the response to Katrina, the Iwo Jima ARG’s ships were often the only assets that could deliver supplies to parts the region, Rear Adm. Sinclair M. Harris, commander of the Amphibious Squadron 4, recalled for the Naval History and Heritage Command in 2015, for the storm’s ten-year anniversary.
“The bridges were out of service and the airport shutdown, so the only way to provide support was from the sea. Vessels like [the former high-speed ferry ] Swift (predecessor of the Joint High Speed Vessel) made countless runs up the Mississippi river keeping the logistic support flowing to the ships supporting the city,” Harris wrote.