5 Navy ships, Marines preparing and responding to Hurricane Irma

Engineers with the United States Marine Corps gearing up to board the USS Iwo Jima Sept. 7, 2017, in preparation to deliver aid after Hurricane Irma. Credit: WAVY/Chris Horne.

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY/AP) — The USS Kearsarge, USS Wasp and USS Oak Hill along with Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are supporting relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands say three people have died after Irma caused what they described as “catastrophic” damage. Governor spokesman Samuel Topp said Thursday that the deaths occurred in the St. Thomas and St. Johns district. Officials say crews are clearing many roads that remain inaccessible.

Irma also killed four people and injured about 50 on the French side of St. Martin. Three more deaths were reported on the British island of Anguilla, independent Barbuda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.

Wasp — the first Navy platform to arrive near the Virgin Islands — is providing medium and heavy lift helicopters to transport people and supplies. Wasp’s helicopters are conducting medical evacuations for intensive care patients from St. Thomas to St. Croix. The helicopter crews are also doing site assessments on the initial damage in St. Thomas.

Wasp left Norfolk for Sasebo, Japan on Aug. 30 to assume duties as the forward-deployed flagship of the amphibious force of the U.S. 7th Fleet. The ship was on its way when it was redirected to assist with relief efforts.

Kearsarge and Oak Hill left Naval Station Norfolk on Aug. 31 to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. They were redirected to stage south of Florida to be prepared for any kind of response to Irma.

Gallery: Navy relief efforts in US Virgin Islands

Two other Navy ships that are actually based in Jacksonville, Florida are leaving from Naval Station Norfolk on Friday to help the victims of Irma.

Crews were loading the USS Iwo Jima and USS New York with food, water, medical supplies and heavy equipment Thursday afternoon. The two ships were headed here initially for exercises, but were re-purposed to carry supplies from FEMA to the storm victims.

More than 1,700 sailors and Marines will be aboard the two ships, including an engineering unit of Marines from Camp Lejeune. They can provide electricity, fuel for vehicles and will bring equipment that can purify water.

“I feel honored to be a part of this, to help out people who potentially really need it,” said Marine Staff Sergeant Scott Sauer. “I think every other Marine would agree with me.”

The Iwo Jima has an airport, and it can launch small craft with bulldozers that can clear roads. It has a hospital on board with three operating rooms as well.

The captain says because Irma isn’t the only storm out there, it will test his best navigation skills.

“With Irma and Jose both coming up, I’ve got to dodge them both,” said Captain James Midkiff. “I want to get down there safely, because we have an incredible amount of aid and we can really make a difference.”

The Navy will monitor the path of the storm and its destruction, and determine the best destination for the Iwo Jima and New York. That could include Florida or U.S. territories in the Caribbean.