USNS Comfort heads to Puerto Rico to help Maria victims

NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The USNS Comfort left Pier 1 Friday bound for Puerto Rico, with more than 500 medics aboard who will treat victims of Hurricane Maria.

Comfort is one of two Navy hospital ships. It has more than 1000 beds, 11 operating rooms, a pharmacy, equipment for x-rays, CT scans and kidney dialysis.

“We have the capabilities of any hospital that you have in this country,” said Captain Kevin Buckley, Comfort’s medical commanding officer.

Capt. Buckley expects this mission to help hurricane victims will be the highlight of his career. He’s proud of the more than 500 medics who will bring care to Puerto Rico.

“It’s not in mothballs. If you know anything about equipment you have to keep things running. All my lab equipment, CT scanners, radiology machines, are required to be used or at least turned on. You can’t leave them off for a month come back and expect them to work,” says Buckley.

Captain Kevin Robinson, the mission commander, says Comfort will be delivering aid for a minimum of a month. With the pause in the rapid fire hurricane season, he expects a smooth voyage to the island, although he is not certain where they will be asked to go first.

“We’ll get our orders en route and wherever we go, the great part about what Comfort brings to the fight is the ability to move anywhere that they ask us to go,” says Capt. Robinson. “Thirty days seems to be about right for this mission,”

If the mission lasts longer, the Comfort can mobilize, restock and be ready to treat more people.

“We could leave port for a very short period of time and meet underway replenishment,” Robinson said.

Comfort pushed off Friday afternoon and Robinson expects to be in place by Tuesday – Wednesday at the latest. He says he’ll get his specific destination en route, based on where the Comfort can deliver the most care.