Hospital Ship Arrives in Puerto Rico

The hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived in San Juan, Oct. 3, 2017, a week after the island was battered by Maria, the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928. . (Air Force photo by Capt. Christopher Merian)

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived in San Juan, bringing with it state-of-the-art medical facilities and crew.

Defense Department personnel are in Puerto Rico to help the island recover from Hurricane Maria, with roughly 10,000 DoD members working with officials across the island, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said during a news conference in San Juan yesterday.

The ship is sailed by civilian mariners of the Military Sealift Command and staffed by Navy medics from around the United States.

The majority of those on the ship come from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia, but there are sailors from at least 12 different bases aboard as well, Navy officials said.

The ship joins the amphibious assault ships USS Kearsarge and USS Wasp and the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill in Puerto Rican waters. The sailors and Marines aboard those ships were among the first to lend assistance to the stricken island.

The governor said Hurricane Maria killed 34 people on the island and estimated the damage at up to $90 billion.

Roads, Bridges, Commodity Distribution

Military personnel are working with commonwealth personnel to clear roads, rebuild bridges and clear paths through landslides to get food and water via land to all Puerto Rico residents, Rossello said.

DoD is working to build a comprehensive commodities distribution and medical support network in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and the equivalent Puerto Rico agencies.

Getting food and water to affected communities remains the top priority for the commonwealth and federal assistance team, Rossello said. After that comes fuel — particularly for hospitals and other critical infrastructure nodes — telecommunications, electricity and shelter.

Eighty military helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft are flying missions around the island, ferrying supplies into areas where roads still haven’t been cleared of trees and debris.

Telecommunications remains a problem with only 12 percent of the population having cell service. DoD is delivering mobile cell towers to replace the thousands of towers destroyed in the storm.

Facilities Reopen

About 65 percent of the island’s supermarkets and 153 banks are now open. About 430 ATMs are available, and 750 of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 gas stations are operating.

More supplies are rolling onto the island. Officials processed almost 500 containers yesterday and said they expect to reach near normal levels in the coming weeks. These containers contain bottled water, generators, blankets and other support items.

The emergency continues on the island, but progress is being made, officials said. A sign that things are returning to normal is that Rossello relaxed the mandatory curfew. He asked Puerto Rico residents to remain off the streets from midnight to 5 a.m.


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