Navy ships returning to Norfolk after helping with Irma relief efforts

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The locally-based The USS Abraham Lincoln is home with the USS San Jacinto returning Saturday after helping with Hurricane Irma relief efforts in Florida.

The aircraft carrier and guided-missile cruiser left the coast of Key West yesterday after turning over relief efforts to authorities in the state.

The two ships left Norfolk before the storm made landfall in the Florida Keys and were the first military ships to provide immediate search-and-rescue missions in the wake of the storm. Troops also flew water and supplies to storm victims.

Gallery: USS Abraham Lincoln Irma Response

The Lincoln and the San Jacinto include 2,800 sailors and 14 MH-60 Helicopters from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron FIVE (HSC-5) and Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadrons (HSM) 70/72/74. For many sailors that headed south to Florida from Norfolk, the mission was personal.

“It was really emotional for me. my father is in Fort Myers, I have family in Fort Lauderdale,” explained LTJG Alfred Whittington. “The way down was full of emotion because you don’t know. it’s a lot of what ifs.”

Another sailor, PO1 Mariapaula Ortegenroa’s family lives in Miami.

“At first it made me nervous and overwhelmed but then I know I was safe on the ship. And knowing my family knows I’m safe. They were more worried about me than themselves a little bit,” she said.

While they focused on their humanitarian mission, it was hard not to wonder what was going on at home. The sailors had no access to phones. Just intermittent emails.

“It was literally the only way to get a hold of our family, so just a brief “I’m okay” was really all I needed,” said PO1 Nick Slocum.

Now that they’re back in Norfolk, the sailors who say Florida is their real home are hoping to connect and learn if their homes were impacted. While knowing the aid they provided may have directly impacted their parents and friends.

Three Navy ships remain in Florida. The USS Iwo Jima, USS New York and USS Farragut continue to help with Irma recovery efforts. According to military officials, the ships are supporting civilian authorities in the affected areas.

5 Navy ships, Marines preparing and responding to Hurricane Irma

The Navy says the ships, with 2,400 sailors and marines, are providing expeditionary logistic support, medium and heavy lift air support, medical support, maritime civil affairs and maritime security.

The Navy have not said when these three ships will return to their homeports.