Three Navy ships on standby to help with Matthew relief in Caribbean

The USS George Washington departs Hampton Roads Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 to help in the relief efforts on Haiti. The island was hit by Hurricane Matthew. Credit: WAVY/Chopper 10

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The USS George Washington left from Naval Station Norfolk Tuesday to help with relief efforts from Hurricane Matthew. The aircraft carrier will go wherever help is needed in the Caribbean.

So far, no country has specifically asked for help and the ship hasn’t received orders to go to one particular island, but they are ready just in case. Matthew has struck Haiti and was expected to cause problems for Cuba as well.

The vulnerable island of Haiti was hit by Hurricane Matthew Tuesday as the storm powered through the Caribbean Sea. The storm, which was a Category 4 hurricane at the time, was expected to bring up to 25 inches of rain to Haiti.

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Matthew is now threatening a possible east coast track that could bring severe weather from the system to Hampton Roads and northeast North Carolina.

“We have a full service hospital on board. We’ve got a surgeon, petty officers who specialize in medicine, we can turn the hangar bay into a triage unit,” explained Commander David Hecht, a Navy Public Affairs Officer.

On board the ship are supplies to help with both humanitarian aid and rescue, including: 83 pallets of water, 59 pallets of cots, 500 hardhats, 500 safety glasses, 500 masks, 400 gloves, 2000 cans of insect repellent, 20 cases of MRE’s, and 200 camel packs, according to Commander Hecht.

The Navy is also sending the USNS Comfort and the USS Mesa Verde. But the George Washington has a unique capability.

“An aircraft carrier has an incredible capacity for making fresh water in a disaster situation; that’s vital.” Hecht told the ship can turn as many as 400,000 gallons of salt water into fresh water daily.

The crew was already planning to go out to sea for a three week training mission. Now, they’re not sure when they’ll come home. They will adjust their course and their plans depending on where Matthew is most destructive, and where help is needed.

“When an aircraft carrier is parked 12 miles off shore of a country, it sends a message of deterrence. But in this situation when the aircraft carrier is parked 12 miles off shore it sends a message that America cares and America is here to help.”