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US troops prepare hurricane relief efforts in Haiti; operations could last weeks

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 7, 2016

WASHINGTON – A 350-member U.S. military task force was preparing to launch initial search-and-rescue operations in hurricane-ravaged Haiti early Friday afternoon, the relief unit’s top officer announced.

Active-duty Marines, soldiers and airmen were staged in the nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince with nine heavy- and medium-lift helicopters that would be tasked with humanitarian relief operations in remote locations left devastated late Tuesday by Hurricane Matthew, said Navy Rear Adm. Cedric Pringle, the commander of Task Force-Haiti.

Death toll estimates now range from about 400 to more than 800, according to news reports early Friday afternoon.

Pringle said he surveyed the damage to impoverished nation from the air on Thursday.

The storm destroyed buildings, including homes, and ravaged roads, bridges and infrastructure, leaving much of the country’s south impassable, the admiral said. Aid workers had yet to reach some of the more remote areas because of the damaged infrastructure.

The U.S. military task force would soon deploy to some of those locations, Pringle said, including the town of Jeremie, one of the hardest hit areas where dozens had already been reported killed.

In addition to search-and-rescue, the troops will deliver food, water and supplies.

“The damage is pretty extensive here,” Pringle told reporters Friday at the Pentagon via telephone. “There’s a lot of work to be done over the next several weeks or however long it takes.”

The unit includes CH-53E Super Stallion, CH-47 Chinook and UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters and Coast Guard cutters. It is assigned to assist the U.S. Agency for International Development’s relief efforts. About 250 servicemembers had arrived in Port-au-Prince as of Friday morning and another 100 were expected by Saturday, Pringle said.

In addition, the Navy’s USS Mesa Verde, an amphibious transport dock ship, had been tasked with aiding Haiti relief efforts, said Jose Ruize, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command. The ship includes four additional helicopters and 300 additional Marines who can help with relief efforts.

“The airlift and transport capabilities of amphibious ships make them uniquely suited to support the delivery and distribution of much-needed relief supplies, as well as transport humanitarian assistance personnel in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster,” Ruiz said in a statement.

The Navy also has the USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier, and the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, ready to assist with the response, if requested by Haiti’s government.

Pringle said his troops were making progress and were committed to helping the people of Haiti.

“This is a major effort here to restore some stability to the people of Haiti,” he said. “Our helicopters and our people are going to be a critical element for supporting this operation simply because of the terrain here in Haiti and the number of people who are cut off in any other way.”

Dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC
 

More than 30 members of the 621st Contingency Response Wing aboard a C-17 Globemaster III at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. wait for equipment to be loaded on before takeoff on their way to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in response to Hurricane Matthew, October 6, 2016.
ZACHARY MARTYN/U.S. AIR FORCE

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