Aerial delivery of relief supplies to Haiti began from USS Kearsarge on September 8, as three helicopters launched from the flight deck to transport food and water to areas suffering from the after-effects of tropical storms Fay, Gustav and Hanna and Hurricane Ike.
U.S. Southern Command directed the U.S. 4th Fleet to divert the amphibious ship from its humanitarian and civic assistance mission in Colombia to assist the U.S. Agency for International Development in mitigating human suffering and loss of life, officials said.
Helicopter crews and ground support personnel directed distribution and loaded relief supplies. On the first day of operations, pilots from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 flew two relief missions to Jeremie, delivering 12 metric tons of pre-packaged food such as flour, beans, rice and high-energy biscuits from the World Food Program.
Kearsarge sailors went ashore at the distribution center and integrated with other agencies in Port au Prince to assist with the palletizing and loading of supplies on to the helicopters. Pilots also conducted site surveys for Gonavies, but severe weather conditions prevented surveys of Jacmel and Les Cayes for at least another day.
“The circumstances that bring us here are unfortunate, but it is fortunate we are here,” Navy Capt. Fernandez “Frank” Ponds said after taking an aerial tour and witnessing some of the devastation of the areas firsthand. “The unique capabilities that Kearsarge brings with it will ensure that help and aid reaches people quickly.”
Three storms in three weeks have left hundreds of thousands in desperate need of food, clean water and shelter. The town of Gonaives was the hardest-hit by the tropical storms, leaving much of the city under water.
Three landing-craft vessels were sent to retrieve supplies from Port au Prince for early distribution the next day to Gonavies.
“Delivering the supplies from the World Food Program gave me a sense that we are restoring hope, that hopefully wasn’t completely swept away by the storms,” said Navy Ensign Chris Loper, who assisted with the delivery of supplies to Jeremie.
The objective of delivering emergency relief supplies, which included vegetable oil, beans and rice, much of which was provided by Canada to the World Food Program and USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, is to help local governments and relief organizations achieve self-sufficiency as they rebuild from the destruction, officials said.
Kearsarge is in the Caribbean supporting Phase 2 of Continuing Promise 2008, a humanitarian assistance mission that includes helping partner nations affected by natural disasters and other emergencies.
Any U.S. military assistance to a foreign nation must be requested by the host nation through the U.S. ambassador, officials explained. Then, as the lead federal agent, USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance fields the request and asks the Defense Department for military assistance, if needed.
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