The U.S. military is ramping up its response to Hurricane Maria

The U.S. military is ramping up its response to Hurricane Maria
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Gina Harkins is MOAA's Senior Digital Content Manager. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at: @ginaaharkins.

More U.S. troops are heading to the Caribbean to respond to a massive humanitarian disaster after multiple hurricanes ripped through the region in late summer, devastating several islands in their paths.

Thousands of troops are operating in and around Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic a week after Hurricane Maria - the second major storm to pass through in a matter of weeks - pummeled the islands. 

The Navy's hospital ship Comfort is heading to Puerto Rico, Pentagon officials announced Wednesday, where 44 percent of American citizens there are without drinking water, and just 11 of 69 hospitals have fuel or power. Brig. Gen. Rich Kim, Army North's deputy commanding general, also is standing up a joint-forces land component headquarters to manage relief efforts from the ground.

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico Sept. 20 as a powerful Category 4 storm with 155-mph winds. Maria knocked out the island's power grid and tore roofs off homes. Widespread flooding washed away roads, making it difficult to deliver food, water, and fuel to the stranded.  

The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, which includes sailors and Marines, has conducted at least eight medical evacuations and 123 airlifts, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning said this week. The troops have delivered 22,000 pounds of relief supplies and other cargo to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, he said. 

Marines and sailors also are clearing roads and airfields near the old Roosevelt Roads Naval Station on the eastern end of Puerto Rico so more aircraft can operate from the island. The Navy also dispatched a disaster-response team to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands to clear streets and deliver supplies, Manning said. 

U.S. Southern Command established Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands at the request of the St. Martin and the Dominican Republic governments when Hurricane Irma tore through the region ahead of Maria. The task force includes about 300 troops operating ashore and another 1,100 aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp. The task force is equipped with transport fixed-wing aircraft and heavy-lift helicopters. 

"We continue to conduct 24-hour operations, aggressively conducting search-and-rescue operations, bringing additional essential commodities to the islands, and restoring power at critical facilities with generators and the fuel needed to power them," Manning said in a press conference.

Other military efforts in the region include: 

  • The Army's 602nd Area Support Medical Company and a civil-authority information-support element are transporting supplies between St. Croix and St. Thomas.
  • The Navy and Coast Guard worked to reopen Puerto Rico's main port in San Juan, where Manning said daylight operations have resumed.
  • Soldiers along with eight UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Fort Campbell, Ky., deployed to San Juan International Airport to support relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers conducted a preliminary inspection of Guajataca Dam, which was in danger of failing after Maria hit. The engineers are working closely with Puerto Rico emergency managers as they monitor assess the dam, Manning said.
  • Members of the Army National Guard are clearing routes, conducting evacuations, and improving communication on the islands.
  • A joint Army National Guard-Marine Corps unit team is assisting first responders in Puerto Rico by providing fuel and route clearance.
  • The Defense Logistics Agency transported 15,000 gallons of propane to Puerto Rico and 10,000 to the U.S. Virgin Islands. It also shipped 90 fuel trucks to Puerto Rico.
  • DoD personnel re-established the mobile communications tower at St. Thomas International Airport, Manning said, which improved air-traffic control capabilities. 

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