Hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) is steaming to Puerto Rico, as part of Hurricane Maria relief effort, just as federal officials stated only one of the island’s 69 hospitals is fully operational.
Federal Emergency Management Agency assessments were completed at 62 of Puerto Rico’s 69 hospitals. Along with the one fully operational facility, FEMA reported 55 hospitals were partially operational, five are closed, and the status of eight is still unknown, according to a Department of Defense statement released Friday morning.
Comfort is expected to arrive in Puerto Rico next week. Once on site, provides an acute surgical facility, offering the same level of medical care found at a major shore medical hospital such as Naval Medical Center Portsmouth or the Maryland Trauma Center in Baltimore. During normal pier side operations, Comfort has approximately 50 personnel who crew the ship, keeping it ready to quickly deploy. When activated, according to the Navy, Comfort’s crew grows to approximately 1,200 personnel.
Meanwhile, Marines and sailors from the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group are continuing to work with FEMA and other medical officials to assess the status of Puerto Rico’s hospitals. Marines and sailors are helping restore power to hospitals, and in some cases, even transporting civilian teams to assess facilities still hard to access because of debris blocking roads.
The Kearsarge ARG includes amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD-51), and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The ARG has been providing assistance to the region for nearly a month, as three major hurricanes passed, according to the Navy.
The ARG is also due to be assisted by USS Wasp (LHD-1), which is returning to Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands after providing hurricane disaster relieve to Dominica, according to a Department of Defense statement Friday. Wasp has been in the region since the start of September, initially providing assistance to the U.S. Virgin Islands. In Dominica, Marines and sailors from Wasp conducted search and rescue operations, evacuated U.S. citizens, and delivered 2,000 pounds of food to Ross Medical University on Dominica.
Once in the vicinity of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. Northern Command is planning to pair Wasp MH-60s with additional helicopters, bringing a total of 52 tilt and rotary wing aircraft to support the Hurricane Maria disaster relief effort.
Marines from the 26th MEU are also assisting FEMA and Puerto Rico State Guard units to distribute food, water, disaster relief supplies, and clearing debris from the area around Roosevelt Roads, the former Navy base now operated as a civilian airport.
Coast Guard cutters have been ferrying food and supplies into the Port of Ponce, Puerto Rico. The crew of USCGC Venturous (WMEC-625) even donated their personal stash of food to the relief effort in Ponce, according to a Coast Guard statement.