Hurricane Season 2017:
Navy, Marine Corps provide relief to Caribbean, Gulf Coast
The months of August and September saw three catastrophic hurricanes carve paths of destruction throughout the Caribbean and U.S. Gulf Coast: Harvey, Irma and Maria.
First, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas late on Aug. 25 as a category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds clocking in at 130 mph - the nation's first major hurricane landfall in 12 years. Harvey moved slowly across Texas into Louisiana from Aug. 26 to 30, dumping record amounts of rain - more than 50 inches in some areas - resulting in catastrophic flooding.
Texas military bases in the path of the storm, including Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi and NAS Kingsville, evacuated families and nonessential personnel out of harm's way.
The Navy quickly dispatched assets to the Texas coast including USS Kearsarge
(LHD 3), USS Oak Hill
(LSD 51), USNS John Lenthall
(T-AO 189) and USNS William McLean
(T-AKE 12). Helicopter squadrons were soon on the scene to conduct search and rescues including Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC)-7, HSC-21, HSC-23, HSC-28, Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM)-14, and HM-15.
As the Navy turned over relief efforts to local authorities, however, another storm was brewing off the coast of Africa. Hurricane Irma quickly formed into a monstrous category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds clocked at 185 mph and gusts upward of 200 mph, cutting a path of destruction across the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Some islands were left nearly uninhabitable and more than 40 people died. Irma then slammed into the Florida Keys the morning of Sept. 10 as a category 4 and continued northeast, causing extreme flooding along in the Keys and the Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami areas.
Commanders ordered the evacuation of nonessential personnel and family members from several military bases in Irma's path, including Naval Air Station Key West, Florida, and the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center on Andros Island, Bahamas. Navy Region Southeast authorized voluntary evacuations for personnel and families at Naval Support Activity Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport, Florida.
In the meantime, Kearsarge, Oak Hill and William McLean were redirected from their deployment to Texas. They were joined in the Caribbean by many other ships, including USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), USS Wasp (LHD 1), USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), USS New York (LPD 21), USS San Jacinto (CG 56) and USS Farragut (DDG 99).
Kearsarge had been transporting Expeditionary Strike Group 2, Amphibious Squadron 6, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Tactical Air Control Squadron 22 and Fleet Surgical Team 4 to Texas. She brought with her their capabilities and some supplies, including baby food and formula, diapers, bedding, bottled water, coolers, batteries, towels, food and medical supplies.
Wasp, the first Navy platform to arrive in the vicinity of the U.S. Virgin Islands, provided medium and heavy lift helicopters to transport people and supplies.
Sailors aboard Abraham Lincoln made fresh water to support Florida residents. The ship can make about 100,000 gallons of water a day. Her helicopters also flew supplies throughout south Florida, including NAS Key West and Homestead Air Reserve Base. Air crews conducted search and rescue missions and medical evacuations.
William McLean pumped fuel and delivered supplies to Navy units, ensuring they could continue relief efforts.
USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) later arrived in the Caribbean to support relief efforts on the devastated French-Dutch island of Saint Martin, providing bottles of water, Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), and fuel for reverse osmosis water purification systems.
Crews from the Iwo Jima and New York worked along the lower Keys, from Marathon to Key West, clearing debris; distributing food, water, tarps, and blankets; and repairing generators and critical infrastructure such as water-pumping stations.
"It was a blessing that my ship, USS Iwo Jima, was selected to come down and help out after Hurricane Irma hit Key West," said Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Gabrielle Young. "It really means a lot to me to have been able to give back to the people and community that helped me as I was growing up in Key West."
The response to Irma had not yet concluded when another powerful category 5 storm, Hurricane Maria, made landfall on the Caribbean island of Dominica, Sept. 18 and moved on to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Navy and Marine Corps teams from USS Kearsarge and Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, are currently conducting search and rescue and damage assessment flights as disaster relief efforts continue across the region.
Editor's note: The information in this article is from Navy.mil and Defense.gov.