US military commits air support for Bahamas aid operation
By MICHAEL WILNER, TARA COPP, ALEX DAUGHERTY, DAVID SMILEY AND CHARLES RABIN | McClatchy Washington Bureau | Published: September 7, 2019
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The Trump administration has requested "airlift and logistics support" from the Defense Department in its urgent support effort for the Bahamas, McClatchy has learned.
The U.S. Agency for International Development formally made the request of the Pentagon on Friday afternoon after conducting aerial and on-the-ground assessments of the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian earlier this week.
"There are multiple U.S. government agencies providing immediate support to Hurricane Dorian relief efforts in The Bahamas," a USAID spokesperson said. "In addition to working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, USAID is working with the Department of Defense and requesting the unique capabilities of United States Northern Command, to provide airlift and logistics support for USAID-led humanitarian response activities."
U.S. Northern Command Chief Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy arrived in the Bahamas on Friday to get an assessment. O'Shaughnessy told reporters on the ground in Nassau that the U.S. military would be adding support.
"We'll continue to beef up, we'll continue to collaborate with the government of the Bahamas," O'Shaughnessy said in front of several U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys that have been added to the rescue effort.
The early priorities would be to clear the airfield on Abaco Island to get aid in, O'Shaughnessy said.
Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas over a 40-hour period, hovering over the island nation with Category 5 winds.
The U.S. was quick to pledge support for the Bahamian government, and sent a team of experts with USAID in the hours after the storm had passed to assess the extent of the damage.
The announcement followed a request from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for the U.S. to commit military assets after he viewed the destruction of the Abaco Islands on Friday morning.
"They're the only ones that have large aircraft and they're experts at moving food and water and logistical support," Rubio said at a Friday afternoon news conference at the U.S. Coast Guard station at Opa-Locka Airport.
Rubio, Florida Sen. Rick Scott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touched down in Andros Town, on Andros Island in the Bahamas, with the U.S. Coast Guard on Friday and got an aerial view of several of the Bahamian islands that were hard hit this week by Hurricane Dorian.
Their take: It looked as if a bomb had devastated the small island chain and without the help of the U.S. Department of Defense, recovery will be extremely difficult and lengthy.
Scott urged help from other nations.
"All that destruction. Your heart goes out to them," he said. "The international community has to show up."
After touching down in Andros Town, Florida's senators flew over Freeport and the Abaco Islands.
Rubio said that as many as 3,500 Bahamians were now in shelters in and around Marsh Harbour. He said the underwater topography shifted from the storm and that contractors were mapping out the port area in Grand Bahama so boats and ships can eventually get back to the port. The airport was also filled with sand and debris, according to Rubio.
A USAID-affiliated search-and-rescue team from Virginia conducted aerial reconnaissance on Thursday and began ground assessments on Friday around Abaco to get a closer look at the damage and to identify a base of operations for continued search-and-rescue efforts.
A member of the team said that the Bahamian government will determine how long the search-and-rescue phase should last before transitioning to a recovery effort. John Morrison, public information officer for the Fairfax team, said that the 57-person team had seen from past experience the surprising resiliency that survivors can display after a disaster strikes.
But he expects many deaths nonetheless.
"The death toll will be more than anyone would like to see or can bear," said Morrison. "Obviously, of any disaster of this scale, there's a potential for a substantial death toll."
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