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US Southern Command supports Caribbean hurricane response efforts
Published on October 7, 2016 Email To Friend    Print Version

Marines deployed to Honduras prepare a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter to deploy to Grand Cayman, October 4, 2016. S. Southern Command directed a team of about 100 military personnel and nine helicopters to Grand Cayman where they will be staged and ready to support US disaster relief operations in the Caribbean if requested by US Agency for International Development. Marine Corps photo

By Cheryl Pellerin

WASHINGTON, USA -- US Southern Command is supporting the State Department and the US Agency for International Development in delivering and coordinating humanitarian relief to Haiti, which has been hard hit by Hurricane Matthew, Southcom Commander Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

Tidd, during a conference call from Southcom headquarters in Miami – itself only a day away from the hurricane’s high winds and rain -- said Haiti is the only country so far whose government has requested US assistance in the wake of the storm.

Southcom is standing up Joint Task Force Matthew, commanded by Navy Rear Adm. Cedric Pringle, to support requests for humanitarian assistance, Tidd said, “and we've moved or we're in the process of moving nine helicopters to the Cayman Islands for potential onward movement to Haiti.”

Haiti Hurricane Damage

Hurricane Matthew has caused heavy wind damage and extensive flooding in southern Haiti, and strong winds have downed trees and power lines and destroyed agricultural fields, Tidd said. “We have reports indicating that communication infrastructure [is damaged] and that roads along the southern coastline are impassable,” he added. “We should have more information coming through USAID and our six-member attaché’s office within the embassy country team over the next few hours.”

Teams on the ground using aircraft provided by the US Coast Guard have been able to observe some of the damage along the coast, Tidd said, adding that Southcom expects to get detailed reports in the coming hours.

On Wednesday morning, in consultation with the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince and USAID, Southcom directed a small task force command team headed by Pringle to deploy to Port-au-Prince, and they’re expected to arrive later today, Tidd said.

Military Helicopter Support

“The helicopters are a mix of Army and Marine Corps heavy- and medium-lift helicopters that are moving in two waves through Grand Cayman Island and via Jamaica,” the admiral said, and they include four Army H-60 helicopters, two medical evacuation helicopters and two utility helicopters that have search-and rescue-capability.

Cutters from Coast Guard District 7 in Miami are already converging on the scene as the heavy seas begin to move out, and Southcom is working in close coordination with them, Tidd noted.

“We expect the first helicopters to be on the ground at Port au Prince Airport tomorrow,” he said. “There's still some heavy weather between Jamaica and Haiti right now that prevents [the helicopters] from moving on today, but we're watching the weather closely, and as soon as they can tomorrow, we hope they will be on the ground.”

The military personnel associated with the nine helicopters are a team of about 100 Marines, soldiers and Navy personnel, and Pringle will arrive shortly with a joint task force headquarters staff.

“We expect that over the next few days that will grow to about 50,” Tidd said, “so right now we're looking at 150 to 200 people, US military personnel, supporting efforts [being undertaken] by USAID on the ground in Haiti.”

Initially, they will work with the Haitian government and USAID to conduct surveys to determine which areas are hardest hit, he added, then using the medium- and heavy-lift helicopters they’ll start moving humanitarian supplies to the outlying areas, especially those areas that seem to be cut off by damage to bridges and roads on Haiti’s southern peninsula.

Ensuring Haiti Relief

About Jamaica, Tidd said initial reports are that the country has requested no DoD assistance to support efforts there.

The storm is chewing through The Bahamas, and then it's projected to head up the southeast coast of the United States, the admiral said.
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